Program Feasibility and Your Stakeholders

Establishing the Three Pillars Initiative program model through your community foundation is dependent on the collaboration and support of key community stakeholders.

✓ Your Board of Directors
✓ Initial Donor-Investors
✓ Local Nonprofit Organizations
✓ High School Advisors
✓ Volunteer Mentors
✓ Program Coordinator
✓ Host Facility

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Many if not all of these stakeholders are those that you interact with on an ongoing basis in a variety of ways. Initial conversations with each of the stakeholders described below, along with our guidance and consultation, will provide you with the information needed to determine the feasibility of launching this program in your community. Together, these stakeholders represent the necessary combination of resources that enable both the implementation and the sustainability of the program.


Given the scope of the program model, the Board should set aside time to initially hear about the program and what it requires in terms of resources. The hybrid nature of the model, i.e. a program fund established and sponsored by the community foundation itself, would suggest that the Board have an opportunity to discuss and clarify its purpose and the expected outcomes.

Following your due diligence, it is recommended that the Board gives its approval for staff to reach out to the necessary stakeholders as the first step in determining the viability of establishing the program in the communities you serve.


The ultimate financial goal of the program is to establish an endowment fund that, at your customary spending rate, will cover in full the amount of annual grants distributions, fundraising expenses and all operating costs. While it is not inconceivable that one or two donors could initially seed the fund at a self-sustainable level, experience has shown that getting commitments from several donor sources is a more realistic strategy. Current fundholders, major donors, independent foundations, family foundations and corporations are likely prospects.


The scope and scale of your program will determine the initial investment goal you will want to test with prospective donors. Before seeking support, you will need to determine how much you want to initially commit to annual program grants distributions, the costs involved in running the program and the extent to which the community foundation can commit its own financial and human resources to the program.

We strongly recommend that the amount of annual grants distributions be substantial, i.e. at a level that will attract serious attention from local nonprofit organizations, elevate the impact of the program on the community and provide a more robust experience for the students. A total of $25,000 is recommended.

Barring the creation of a self-sustaining endowment from the start, you should set a short-term initial investment goal consisting of donor commitments (cash and/or pledges) that will cover grants distributions, fundraising costs and operating expenses for the first 5 five years.

Donor prospects might include:

✓ Current fundholders whose enthusiasm for the program would lead them to re-direct a portion of their fund assets into the program fund,

✓ Donors who would cover the amount of annual grants distributions and/or program operating costs by being recognized as a named sponsor of the program (a corporate partner in particular),

✓ A supporting organization, family or independent foundation, some of which might be under your management, who would underwrite the annual grants distributions and/or program operating costs,

✓ Donors who would agree to create a challenge or matching grant toward the student’s annual fundraising campaign efforts.


Local nonprofit organizations, many of whom you have funded previously, need to be ready to submit grant proposals in response to the RFP the students will distribute. They must be willing to invest time in submitting well-written and compelling proposals that meet the guidelines of the RFP. The number of proposals and quality of programs for which agencies make their requests for funding depend in large part on amount of grant funds made available. Obviously, the higher the amount, the more likely nonprofits will take a serious interest in applying. Creating a scenario where teens are fully responsible for making tough funding choices is a critical part of the leadership development goal.

Following the submission of their grant request, organization representatives will be expected to meet with the students who will conduct a site visit. The following year, the same students, now seniors, will conduct a site re-visit to evaluate the impact of the funds they granted. Local organizations should indicate a willingness to get involved in these activities.


Student advisors or counselors serve as important partners in the program. They can help identify students and encourage them to submit an application. They can help shape a diverse mix of student applicants based on such factors as gender, ethnicity, socialization level, grade point average and extra-curricular activities. Advisors can promote the program in a variety of ways such as making brief announcements in junior class homerooms or study halls, handing out fliers to teachers and administrators and posting information in the teacher’s lounge. Advisors can also help identify any school activities that may conflict with dates set for program activities.

We recommend that you set a goal of accepting 25 juniors into the program. While it is possible to deliver the program with a smaller number, the program curriculum and activities are designed for 25 students and the long-term goal of creating a pipeline of future leaders in community philanthropy will better materialize.



One of the key program design elements is using volunteer mentors to deliver the program. Mentors are the heart of the program. They represent adults in the community whose own leadership in civic engagement, volunteerism, financial support and interest in youth development are well regarded. They provide facilitation, coaching, teaching and coordination of their student teams throughout the program. Mentors should demonstrate a general level of knowledge about philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. Individuals who work or have worked in a community organization, serves as a civic leader or has a teaching career are good sources. Individuals who are current or former members of your board may have an interest. While there are many defining characteristics that would make for a good fit, a person who genuinely likes working with teenagers is a major qualifier.

To meet program quality standards, the ratio of students to mentors should be no more than 5:1. If you accept 25 students into the program (recommended), you will need 5 mentors. If you accept 20 students, you will need a minimum of 4 mentors. As the first junior cohort mentors move ahead with their students into their senior year of the program, you will need to identify another group of mentors for the second junior cohort. It is important that all new mentors in the program commit to two consecutive years, beginning with a junior cohort, so that this continuity can be achieved each year.



Identifying an individual who can devote sufficient time and is able to take on the responsibilities of running the program is essential. The Program Coordinator, who would serve as an independent contractor or as a volunteer, would ideally be fully integrated as a member of your management team in order to provide ongoing communication and integration of the program within the community foundation. Finding someone who can demonstrate a multi-year commitment to this role is highly recommended.

All program curriculum, learning materials, media content resources, program records and administrative functions are organized and managed by the Program Coordinator Operationally, the program needs to be identified internally as a distinct program and fund of its own. The exception to this is utilization of your community foundation’s donor database management system. You will want to enter and manage new and current donor information to the program into whatever existing system you have but assure that identification and segmentation of all program donors is readily available.



Program sessions are best delivered in an easily accessible venue that has sufficient space to comfortably accommodate the students, mentors and the program coordinator. If both junior and senior cohorts meet on the same dates and times, e.g. every second Wednesday of the month, the space requirements double in the second year. In this scenario, two program coordinators, one for each cohort, may be required, but this is optional. The advantage of same-date sessions is that it provides an opportunity for the juniors and seniors and all the mentors to interact.

Sessions are best held on a mid-weekday evening after school and athletic activities. Providing food and drinks at each session is highly recommended. This will likely need to be coordinated with the host facility even if the food is delivered. Other considerations in selecting a venue include the accessibility of A/V equipment and WiFi connectivity, availability of round or rectangular tables with a minimum of 6 chairs and storage space for program supplies.


You will want to report to the Board the results of your stakeholder outreach conversations and the initial funding strategy for underwriting the launch of the program. If the recommendation is to move forward, and no further stakeholder conversations about feasibility are necessary, we are ready to provide you with technical assistance and experienced counsel, not only in preparing to launch your program but also in assisting in its implementation during the entire first donors have been identified through the program.