Guest post by Becky Hoffman, executive director of Adams County Youth Initiative, a StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network community.

In late 2016 our team and board of directors at Adams County Youth Initiative took some time to gain additional clarity on our mission, to define our role as the backbone and to further develop our internal infrastructure. Equally important, we took some time to craft our goals and focus for the year, which we are now referring to as our 2017 strategic plan.

As I stand at the wheel in terms of the work the ACYI backbone does, I am very keen about the responsibility our team has in not only knowing where we are headed, but in knowing how we are going to get there. Our strategic plan — serving as a succinct and clear road map — provides that direction and frankly makes us better partners on our community’s roadways.

In sitting down to map out strategic priorities for 2017, we started with the end in mind. Our destination is success for EVERY child, in every school, cradle to career (period)!

We unequivocally believe that a key component to a successful community is student achievement. When students succeed, our community succeeds. Why? Because students become our workforce, and it’s no secret that communities that have a talented workforce attract and retain employers. With jobs, income, benefits and more, families are able to live well and contribute to a better quality of life. This IS our true north.


Using the StriveTogether framework, otherwise known as the Theory of Action, our mission is to drive our community to improve key outcomes along every child’s path to education success (cradle-to-career outcome areas) through the development and support of:

  • A shared community vision
  • Evidence-based decision making
  • Collaborative action
  • Investment and sustainability

When students meet benchmarks in each of our cradle-to-career outcome areas, their potential for long-term success greatly increases. Our planned activities for this year start and end with a clear focus on moving the needle in these outcome areas.

Once we clarified our vision, intent and mission, we became very clear about roles related to the ACYI partnership. We know that the only way to move from talk to action is to identify who is responsible for what and hold partners accountable to clear roles. Learning about B/ART, or the boundary of authority, role and task, at a recent StriveTogether results-based leadership workshop helped demonstrate the need for this type of clarity. So that’s just what we did.

The partnership consists of about 75 organizations including five school districts, eight law enforcement agencies, seven cities, two unincorporated communities and a broad range of nonprofits, faith organizations, businesses and philanthropists. Everyone plays a unique role in driving student achievement from cradle to career by leveraging data, community expertise and collaboration using continuous improvement. All of us must:

  • Measure what matters. Use key indicators to measure student achievement across our community.
  • Identify best practices. Identify practices that create an environment of success.
  • Spread what works. Work to help align community resources to spread what works.


The role of ACYI staff is to mobilize the partnership — the collective coalition of stakeholders who have agreed to work together to benefit students throughout the community from cradle to career.

We are set to accomplish well thought-out goals and action items including measurable outcomes that support each of the following strategic priorities:

Shared Community Vision and Communication

  • Convene and engage cross sector leaders and partners.
  • Engage a broad array of community voices, including the youth voice into our work. We are intently focused on ensuring that our youth are at the table and engaged in every aspect of our partnership.
  • Facilitate communication relevant to the partnership.

Data-driven Decision Making

  • Facilitate the collection and use of disaggregated data across the partnership to practice continuous improvement.

Collaborative Action

  • Provide the knowledge, tools and opportunities to enable collaborative action

Investment and Sustainability

  • Engage partners, funders and policymakers to support operations and collaborative work.

We are holding steadfast to focusing on our strategic priorities and are excited to continue with this crucial work in the community.

becky-hoffman-headshot-webBecky Hoffman is executive director of the Adams County Youth Initiative in Adams County, Co. She leads a collective impact collaborative with over 75 organizations committed to the academic success of over 100,000 students. Hoffman provided key leadership in transitioning ACYI from an unincorporated federally funded grant to a stand-alone nonprofit adopting StriveTogether’s proven national framework.



One of StriveTogether’s great mentors and coaches, Jolie Bain Pillsbury, once had a brilliant insight about our work after engaging with a cohort of communities. She said, “I finally get it — you are trying to create a marketplace for results.”

After much reflection, this is a great way to sum up what we do. We have realized in our work with communities that the way we make decision in the social sector is largely irrational. Data is used to highlight problems but rarely to inform decisions, especially of investors. New programs and initiatives are launched in a stream of innovation, which can be very good. The problem is that when we find something that works, it can be hard to find resources — public or private — to spread and sustain the work. So we turn our attention to the next new idea.

To help understand how we might be able to better create this marketplace, we recently convened 15 investors from across the country at the national, state and local levels who are engaged in building cradle-to-career partnerships. The desired result is threefold:

  • build the capability of the investors to model results-oriented action;
  • test new ways for them to operate that contribute to results at scale; and
  • learn lessons to inform the broader field about the role of philanthropy in this complex work.

First, the investors engaged in this cohort are courageous. There are some clear risks for investors in putting results at the center of their work. In addition to raising the sense of accountability, they are one step removed from the actual delivery of services, so there is less of a direct connection to the result. This brings some sense of risk. But they are diving in regardless as they recognize the critical role they play in this complex ecosystem. The bottom line: If we are going to create a marketplace for results in the social sector where outcomes matter more than inputs, we need more philanthropists to join them in this effort.

But my one primary takeaway was both simple and surprising to me: The role of an investor in community-based work to achieve results at scale is much harder than I thought. And that is saying something, given I have worn the hat before and even dabble in it now through the Accelerator Fund. So what triggered this insight? It was a discussion we had about the challenge investors have in clarifying the role they play in achieving results at scale. The good news is the investors recognized they play many roles: funder, advocate, convener, thought partner, to name a few. But no matter how much they try to enter any discussion on equal footing and even name the role they are playing other than funder, they are still seen as “Daddy Warbucks” from the Broadway show “Annie.”

There are many reasons for this. First and foremost, the mental model of “philanthropy as charity” is still pervasive. They are not seen as investors who are full partners in the work to achieve results, but check writers who should “do the right thing.” There is also the general sense and reality of resource scarcity and completion in the nonprofit sector. It is hard for those looking to implement work on the ground to take risks in authentically partnering, because they can never be sure how any problems they uncover could be perceived or communicated to others. Finally, there is just the reality of privilege in relationships around money. As the old adage says, s/he who has the gold rules.

This brings us back to the need for a marketplace for results. We need some ground rules for creating a more rational decision-making process. We need data on the impact of programs to be first on this list and we need to be sure capacity exists in the community to not just access the data, but use it in productive ways. But equally important, we need a critical mass of investors to agree on these ground rules and to strive to apply them consistently over time. We figured this out in the private sector and it led to the development of the stock exchanges we see all over the world. There is no doubt the social sector is more complex with more variables to control, but I am confident we can figure out something similar over time as more data we can trust becomes available. And I believe the network of investors we have gathered can play a role in making it happen.



Make Thinking Visible for Better Results

February 17, 2017
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What would it take to achieve better and more equitable results for every child, cradle to career? That overarching question is what guides all of our work at StriveTogether. Trying to improve educational outcomes at scale is an aim without end. Unlike learning how to bake a cake or how to build a rocket ship, […]

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‘Smart Aims Are Like Unicorns’ and Other Lessons From the Skid Row School for Large-scale Change

December 21, 2016
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Earlier this month, Parv Santhosh-Kumar and I had an incredible opportunity to gather together with 35 social sector leaders and spend three days at the Skid Row School for Large-scale Change. The experience was transformative. For one, it came at the end of what has been a year filled with high highs and low lows. […]

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Key Lessons for Applying Continuous Improvement Tools to Improve Educational Outcomes at Scale

November 18, 2016
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Collective impact has been one of the biggest buzzwords in the social sector, and, unfortunately, the term gets used for a range of activities that deviate from the original intent: achieving results at scale. Our focus with the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network has been to establish standards for what this work really takes to […]

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Ten Effective Strategies to Increase FAFSA Completion in Your Community

October 18, 2016
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When working to increase FASFA rates, cradle to career partnerships are always looking for proven, easy to replicate strategies that lead to results. Through the work of the Postsecondary Enrollment Impact and Improvement Network, we know the effective strategies used to make sure that more students successfully completed the FAFSA. 1. Implement In-Class Interventions In […]

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Increasing FAFSA Completion Rates Across the Country

October 11, 2016
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Over the past year, six communities across the country have been participating in StriveTogether’s Postsecondary Enrollment (PSE) Impact and Improvement Network. The goal is to increase FAFSA completion in their communities. FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). An increase in FAFSA completion means more students have access to financial aid for, and access to, […]

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Rise Up: Three Insights from the 7th Annual Cradle to Career Network Convening

October 4, 2016
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The 7th Annual Cradle to Career Network Convening was an outstanding success! This is due solely to the great work each and every person in the room does to achieve our ambitious vision – supporting the success of every child from cradle to career – and our short-term goal: Establishing five Proof Points by June […]

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Ms. Price goes to Washington!

September 29, 2016
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This week Juliette Price, director of The Albany Promise, a Sustaining member of the Cradle to Career Network, will travel to Washington, DC for a very special visit to the White House in which she will be recognized as one of eleven “White House Champions of Change for College Opportunity” for the work she is […]

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New Data, New Opportunities

September 28, 2016
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Too often, policy can seem inaccessible to the people in charge of, or affected by, its implementation. That’s why, in part, the StriveTogether network has identified four different roles cradle-to-career partnerships can play in policy: Data expert Partner Convener Community Mobilizer Advocate Connecting each of these concepts is one major role: liaison. I’ve been thinking […]

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