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Annual Survey: A Close Look at Community Initiatives in 2020

In 2020, Community Initiatives once again contracted with valued partner Research Evaluation Consulting (REC) for our annual Project Impact and Customer Satisfaction Survey. Thanks to the participation of 94% of our Project Partners, we were able to take a truly meaningful look at our Projects’ activities and experiences.

We also took the time this year to learn more about how COVID-19 has impacted our community. Within this report are insights and inspiration as Projects evolved to meet the unique challenges we faced this past year.

Who Are We?

This year, Projects selected primary and secondary foci for their mission. Education, health, environmental issues, and social justice were the top priority categories in our network, but our Projects are still varied in purpose and contribute much to the following sectors:

Capacity Building
Youth Development
Journalism and Media
Animal Welfare
Human Services
Arts and Culture
Networking and Alliances

Most Community Initiatives Projects have between one and four employees, and are diverse in both scope and budget:

Pie Chart 2020 Snapshot
of projects have budgets
up to $99,999

45% of projects have budgets
between $100,000 – $499,999

20% of projects have budgets
of $500,000 – $1M+

How Do We Measure Impact?

Measuring impact is critical to any Project’s ability to demonstrate their value and ultimately raise funds for future work. Metrics may be self-selected or dictated by the terms of a grant agreement. A total of 60 Projects (91%) identified at least one metric that they tracked, and they appear below in order of emphasis:

Red Heart Painted on Hands

  1. Populations Served
  2. Project Impact
  3. Services Offered
  4. Participant Feedback
  5. Financial Stability and Funding
  6. Public Awareness
  7. Degree of Engagement
  8. Collaborations and Partnerships

We’re proud to report that Community Initiatives Fiscally Sponsored Projects served a total of 566,393 people in 2020.

What Went Right?

Projects celebrated many successes in the past year, most often cited in the selected key categories below.

Community Engagement and Outreach
A plurality of Projects (46%) described stories of engagement, outreach, and provision of services to their target audiences. Such responses highlighted ongoing, expanded, or new programming, serving specific groups in their geographic or professional areas, and sharing knowledge with others in their communities.

Organizational Improvements
26% mentioned organizational improvements as significant successes. This theme included efforts such as hiring and training staff, setting strategy, building capacity, and modifying performance indicators.

Responses to COVID-19 Pandemic
Not all the news was bad: 25% of Projects noted successes related to their ability to respond to the COVID- 19 pandemic. These responses often spoke of transitioning to virtual services or programming, addressing new community needs, or otherwise pivoting their services or work strategies.

Fundraising and Finances
While this was a core challenge for many groups, 21% of Projects wrote about their fundraising and financial success over the last year. Funds were discussed in terms of maintaining financial stability and securing funding for new or emergency programming.

Additionally, several Projects described important advances in the following areas:

  • Collaborations and Partnerships
  • Products Produced
  • Events Facilitated
  • Advocacy, Policy, and Legislation
  • Research and Technology

Finally, 88% of Projects explained how Community Initiatives had positively impacted their work. The most-commonly referenced examples mentioned:

  • Project infrastructure and support (60%)
  • Financial support, expertise, and guidance (28%)
  • Positive interactions with Community Initiatives’ staff (22%)

Shared Challenges and the Impact of COVID-19

Many challenges may feel unique to your organization, but your peers are often struggling with similar hurdles – even if they work in a different focus area. In this year’s survey, the following three challenges emerged as most common:

COVID-19 (48%)
Most often, difficulties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic included shifting to online program delivery, cancelled travel, and funding challenges. Specific to dealing with the pandemic, projects listed Financial Stress, Cancellation or Restriction of Programs, Pivoted Strategy, Overwhelmed Capacity or Additional Service Needs, and Emotional Toll as critical pain points.

Fundraising and Finance (22%)
These challenges were primarily associated with fundraising and maintaining financial capacity, and many were exacerbated by the pandemic. When asked about future services needed from Community Initiatives, fundraising assistance was requested by 29% of Projects.

Turnover (20%)
Staffing issues included challenges with internal turnover and hiring of new staff, staffing cuts, and transitioning existing contractors to employee positions due to the AB5 legislation.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Community Initiatives applied for and received funding through the CARES Act for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Ultimately, 42 Projects received PPP funding through Community Initiatives and 75% expressed feelings of gratitude, positivity, and satisfaction regarding working with Community Initiatives to obtain funding.

When asked about future help related to the pandemic:

  • 64% of Projects discussed being pleased with current levels of support,
  • 29% of Projects requested additional help with finances and funding, and
  • 15% of Projects sought improved

What Brought You to Community Initiatives and How Does It Benefit You?

Understanding your priorities helps us better strategize and better meet your needs. Projects listed the following as the top reasons for working with a fiscal sponsor:

  • 86% Focus on mission activities
  • 67% Save time
  • 56% Save resources

Projects also specifically listed and ranked the most valuable services they received from Community Initiatives:

  • 58% Financial Services
  • 24% Legal Services and Contract Review
  • 20% Various Services including Administrative Support and Benefits
  • 16% Grant Support
  • 9% Human Resources Support

The survey also asked how Community Initiatives made a positive difference in your work. The majority of respondents listed project infrastructure and operational support as most critical: 60% discussed how they were able to shift their focus from operational activities to serving their target communities.

In Your Own Words

“We came to Community Initiatives from another, less experienced fiscal sponsor. It became clear just how much we had been missing with our previous fiscal sponsor — the experience with small and large projects, their availability and responsiveness, and the clear passion for the essential work we do in our communities.”
Breakthrough Sacramento

“GSO has worked with Community Initiatives almost since its inception. Community Initiatives made our work possible. Great team, great service, and great experiences.”
Get Screened Oakland

“Pre-Health Dreamers is very grateful to have the support of Community Initiatives. As a fairly new project, Community Initiatives has really helped our team through the many questions that help us stay in compliance with 501(c)3 rules. The entire team has been very helpful in answering questions and processing documents in a timely manner. Community Initiatives has continuously been very attentive and detail oriented!”
Pre-Health Dreamers

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the inequalities that impact vulnerable communities across the world. Our work has become more critical because our community is turning to us to read timely content on community resources available…. We are so grateful to have Community Initiatives as our Fiscal Sponsor because you really took care of us and took the initiatives to apply for this funding for all of us.”
South Kern Sol

“The vision demonstrated by Community Initiatives to pursue the PPP loan and distributed to the projects reflects a truly transformative form of leadership. I would highly encourage Community Initiatives to leverage its position and resources to pursue other opportunities for funding opportunities!”
Genesis Healing Institute

“Handling PPP was a life saver and Community Initiatives is very responsive to questions and concerns.”
SF Hep B Free

“Community Initiatives lets us focus on our mission, and takes care of the work that our staff have no expertise in. My relationships with the direct contacts I have at Community Initiatives are all good, friendly, and professional, and this has really made a difference the last few months during all of the craziness of COVID-19. Without clear, consistent and thorough support we would not have fared nearly as well.”
Mission Science Workshop

“Community Initiatives’ leadership and staff are some of the finest individuals we have ever worked with. They’re positive, friendly, customer-service oriented, and approachable. Senior leadership is thoughtful and thorough, and they’ve inspired confidence during these tough times. The diversity of the staff is an obvious strength of the organization, as well.”
The Fund for People in the Parks

People in front of red sunset

Meeting the Need in 2021

We are happy to report that in each of the service areas measured, Projects reported equal or increased satisfaction with Community Initiatives over the past three years. On average, Projects gave a rating of 3.50 out of 4, which was slightly higher than in 2018 and 2019. Similarly, about 73% of Projects said they would be likely to recommend Community Initiatives to others. This value was higher than in 2018 and 2019.

Overall, nearly 91% of individuals responded that they were satisfied or somewhat satisfied with Community Initiatives in Fiscal Year 2020. Throughout the survey, Projects praised their interactions with Community Initiatives staff. For example, positive interactions with staff was a top reason Community Initiatives made a positive difference in their work. Still, we appreciated your candid responses to the survey and noted that some Projects who discussed dissatisfaction with Community Initiatives did write about issues with staff.

We are focused on how we can improve service delivery in 2021. Based on the data received, we will continue to prioritize and improve in these critical areas:

  • Celebrate successes internally and externally
  • Continue to support projects as they address unique challenges due to COVID-19
  • Bolster funding opportunities and support
  • Follow up with projects about their needs and concerns
  • Continue to provide high-quality HR support for projects
  • Continue to make evaluation and streamlining the survey a priority

Each of our Projects relies on fiscal sponsorship to make their work possible. But that decision has an impact beyond the administration of your organization’s efforts alone. By joining the Community Initiatives network, you are making the work of other incredible groups possible, too.

We thank you for your work and the successes we have experienced together in 2020.



Ruth Williams
President and CEO