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Nancy Roob and the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation transform themselves, then the youth development field

About five years ago, a New York Times article about the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (EMCF) began this way: “A New York foundation that focuses largely on opportunities for low-income youths is creating a fund to help charities become bigger and more efficient.” That sentence essentially captures the innovative work of Nancy Roob, EMCF’s president and chairman, and a 17-year Clark veteran.

Over those years, Roob has overseen a shift in grantmaking strategy toward investing in proven nonprofits working with youths ages 9 to 25, and has hired and developed a team of experts who scour the nation to find and recommend making major, multi-year commitments in high-performing youth-serving organizations. Moreover, the foundation has led a philanthropic movement toward providing large, unrestricted growth capital grants, part of a practice she helped dub “scaling what works.”

Among the outstanding organizations nurtured by EMCF are the Nurse-Family Partnership, Youth Villages and Citizen Schools – all models for others across the country, and each carefully measured for impact. As an indication of the latter, a RAND Corporation study showed that every $1 spent on the Nurse-Family Partnership returns $5.70 in savings by helping mothers on welfare raise children who don’t wind up in the social services system or prison.

An innovator in the field, Roob is still guided by the example of the Clark family, EMCF’s donors: “the most humble people you could possibly meet, and yet the most serious people in terms of wanting to see results.”

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