Honoring Best Practices

Best Practice Awardees

Alongside our partner, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, in 2018 we honored five Rhode Island nonprofit organizations for their outstanding work.

In the spirit of continued learning, here are the award recipients' descriptions of their winning projects in five separate categories - advocacy and communications, board and staff leadership, collaboration, innovation, and volunteer engagement:

Economic Progress Institute: Advocacy and communications

Economic Progress Institute

In May, the Economic Progress Institute released its Medicaid Matters in Rhode Island 2018 report which provides information about the breadth and scope of the Medicaid program. The report explains how funding for the program works, how the dollars are spent and who benefits from coverage. The report includes stories from seven Rhode Islanders for whom Medicaid provides access to primary health care and for some, long term care services that allow them to live at home and in the community. The report also details how many residents of each city and town in Rhode Island are enrolled in Medicaid with a map showing where they live as well as a list of federal dollars for local communities. The report includes stories from seven Rhode Islanders for whom Medicaid provides access to primary health care and for some, long term care services that allow them to live at home and in the community. The report also details how many residents of each city and town in Rhode Island are enrolled in Medicaid with a map showing where they live as well as a list of federal dollars for local communities.

Including “real” stories was a new strategy for us and we think made the report more impactful, making the data “come to life.” The map was a good visual – highlighting that Medicaid recipients are not just in the inner cities or poor areas of the state. In addition to the full length 20-page report, we created a 2-page infographic and we co-created a short video of some of the highlighted individuals explaining in their own voice why “Medicaid matters to them”. The videos, report, and infographic can be seen here on the Medicaid Matters page.

As of this report, the video has received over 1,000 views on Facebook and over 150 views on Twitter. Since its release, the Institute has distributed 500 reports and 600 infographics to members of the General Assembly, statewide elected officials and their staff, local superintendents and mayors, local health care professionals, our federal delegation and their staff, and members of the community. The Protect Our Health Care Coalition, which helped secure the videos of Medicaid beneficiaries, has a link to the materials on its website.

Providence Public Library: Board and staff leadership

Providence Public Library

The board developed a three-stage approach to meet the challenge of transforming the Providence Public Library - one that we believe serves as a best practice model for nonprofits. Stage one involved creating and implementing a new strategic plan and vision for the Library. Stage two involved supporting PPL staff in meeting the ambitious educational goals set forth in that plan and telling the new story of PPL to the public. And stage three involved the physical transformation of PPL itself.

Change on this level requires a board that is willing to take risks while also ensuring that the governance and financial oversight of the organization is sound. The board shifted from a more passive governing body to one actively involved in the creation of PPL’s future, and took great care in working with the executive director to craft a dynamic strategic plan that envisioned the “new PPL” and made transparent the resources (staff/volunteers, space, equipment, funding) it would take to achieve this vision. In 2014, PPL’s Think Again plan launched, encouraging Rhode Islanders to think again about PPL’s role in the community while also growing and transforming PPL’s offerings to embody those of a true 21st century community learning hub.

With Think Again in place, the board threw its support fully behind the creation of an innovative education agenda at PPL, in addition to a re-brand and new website. However, our physical space did not meet the needs of our new programs nor enable them to grow. PPL’s board foresaw this, and undertook the process of planning and preparing for a renovation - the largest library renovation in RI history. And after three years of design work, financial modeling, and initial fundraising (with 100% board participation), the board made a historic and unanimous decision to approve the renovation project in June 2018.

Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation: Collaboration

Commercial Fisheries

The Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation's best practice is the development of a community of collaboration among scientists, managers, food professionals, and members of the fishing industry that pursues the common goal of sustainable seafood and vibrant fishing communities. American fishing businesses have endured economic hardship to help recover depleted fish populations and ensure long-term sustainability of fisheries resources, yet they have largely been excluded from the scientific process and are unrecognized for their efforts to support environmental sustainability.

To address these issues, the CFRF has developed methods to 1) Involve fishermen in science that informs management of the resources their livelihoods depend upon, 2) Improve appreciation for and use of local seafood in the Rhode Island food system, and 3) Demonstrate the value of fishing communities as partners in sustainability.

CFRF has devoted years to developing dialogue between the disparate communities of fisheries science and management, commercial fishing, and the seafood supply chain. Each of these communities speaks its own language, uses its own jargon, and harbors assumptions about others involved in fisheries and seafood. The CFRF has provided a venue for these groups to come together to find common ground and develop practical solutions to challenges facing fisheries resources, supply chains, and coastal communities.

Critical to CFRF’s success has been continuous growth and diversification of CFRF’s staff and board of directors, all of whom are members of the fishing industry. The most critical resources have been time and patience, as developing trust and communication between science, fishing, management, and culinary communities is often arduous. Embracing new technology has also been key to CFRF’s success, as it provides tools to expand collaboration and enhance solution-oriented work (i.e. providing fishermen with apps to collect data while at sea or developing digital maps of seafood access points in Rhode Island).

Family Service of Rhode Island: Innovation

Family Service

In 2012, Family Service of Rhode Island (FSRI) launched its first “Walking School Bus” (WSB) route at Fogarty Elementary. Since then, the WSB has served hundreds of students in Providence, Central Fallsm and Pawtucket.

The concept, reflecting the National Safe Routes to School model, involves trained volunteer mentors meeting children along designated routes and, together, walking to school. Chronically absent students served by the WSB have increased their attendance, on average, 10 days a year.

In addition, the WSB is a strategy to outreach to isolated populations suffering from poverty, substance abuse and other barriers to well-being, a kind of “portal to care” that facilitates equity of access. This helped facilitate an internal change at FSRI, causing us to shift beyond the agency’s expertise (clinical work) to more grassroots efforts that would also act as portals for families to be introduced to other needed programs. These efforts include a community garden; neighborhood cleanups; family-fun festivals; and a unique “bridge” between families, schools and the police via FSRI’s award-winning police partnerships.

In addition, FSRI focused on developing school-based services complementing the WSB, reflecting community need. These include:

  • Familias Unidas, serving Spanish-speaking families of adolescents to address topics chosen by their families, such as substance abuse and sexual health.
  • The “Check and Connect” chronic absenteeism program.
  • An asthma program, to help kids with asthma stay healthy.
  • Emergency response to traumatic events or need for psychiatric evaluations.
  • Restorative Practices, providing restorative services for students with social, emotional or behavioral difficulties.
  • Social Emotional Learning: FSRI is embedded in 11 Providence schools to provide behavioral health counseling and follow up.
  • Seven Challenges, addressing youth substance use and the opioid epidemic.

Resources to provide WSB and an array of school-based services have been a mixture of private and government funding. Please see a discussion of resources in the next section.

New Urban Arts: Volunteer engagement

New Urban Arts

New Urban Arts' core program is called Youth Mentorship in the Arts. This afterschool program brings together local artists, whom we call “artist-mentors,” with groups of public high school students who are eager for arts learning opportunities.

Since our founding, the program has depended on volunteers to meet the demand for our services. Each year, we have a cohort of 13 - 15 volunteer artist mentors, each of whom commits to eight months of service during the school year and spends four hours per week working with youth. Collectively, they dedicate about 2,000 hours of service annually.

Competition for these positions is fierce, attrition is low, and many volunteers return for multiple years because of the resources, staff time, and strategic weight that we invest in an excellent volunteer experience. Essentially, managing the volunteer experience is a program unto itself:

  • The selection process is rigorous. As with any hiring process, we solicit applications, which include cover letters, resumes, and an art portfolio. We then conduct in-person interviews with finalists. This conveys a sense of gravity to volunteers.
  • Students conduct the volunteer selection process, including the in-person interviews, with support from staff. Thus, volunteers develop a sense of accountability to our service population from their earliest engagement.
  • Volunteers have access to the resources and equipment in our studio during their service.
  • Volunteers participate in a year-long intensive professional development program, consisting of a two-day orientation, monthly training sessions, and a mid-year retreat. During these events, our staff leads workshops and conducts one-on-one coaching. Topics include youth development, community arts practice, and community-building. We feed volunteers at all professional development events. This professional development training supports volunteers in developing careers that combine art, education, and public service. It also cultivates a strong sense of cohort among volunteers.