Reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World by Leslie Crutchfield, John V. Kania and Mark R. Kramer. Copyright (c) 2011 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.

Shaping Conditions with Stakeholders

It's no secret. Change is hard. People don't like to change evenwhen their circumstances are difficult. And getting groups ofpeople to change within or across organizational boundaries iseven more challenging. But it's not impossible. Sometimes whatit takes is a push to get things going. As authors Chip Heath andDan Heath suggest in their book Switch: How to Change ThingsWhen Change Is Hard, even a small change can get people to seetheir situation in a new way. And this can lead to bigger changes.The key is to get people unstuck from their current ways and intonew ways that hold greater promise.

Grantees get stuck. So do whole communities. Catalytic donorsknow that part of their job, if they want to see improvements inthe causes they care about, is to get people who are involved inthe issue unstuck.

William ''Bill''Graustein and David Nee, board chair and CEOrespectively of the William C. Graustein Memorial Fund (GMF)in New Haven, Connecticut, are two individuals who spend alot of time focused on getting people unstuck from their ways inpreparing kids for success in school and life. GMF was establishedin 1946 by Bill Graustein's father, but it wasn't until the mid-1990sthat GMF received a large infusion of funds causing the boardmembers to get serious about their focus. Bill Graustein set outto improve early childhood outcomes for kids in Connecticut byhelping communities design and implement better educational,social, and environmental supports for kids, from their first yearthrough age eight. Graustein and Nee developed a two-prongedstrategy for the foundation: advocacy for early childhood supportat the state level and work at the community level through tappingcollaboratives that would work with and represent parents andchildren's interests.

There was already a lot of policy advocacy going on aroundearly childhood in Connecticut, and GMF was puzzled as to whythe childhood education groups couldn't get any wins. ''Theperception was, the field doesn't have its act together and can'tget traction,'' explains Nee. So GMF commissioned one of thestate's foremost authorities to conduct a differential analysis ofGMF's major grantees, based on their distinct organizationalcapacities, and to look for opportunities for collaboration. Itturned out that the two biggest nonprofits in GMF's portfoliopossessed great but different strengths: one emerged as a leadingresearch and development tank and the other as the leadingmobilizer of parents and local community members. But whenit came to fieldwide campaigns like policy advocacy and raisingawareness, these two rivals collided. They effectively reached astalemate, locked in separate advocacy campaigns and neitherwinning.

GMF proposed a solution: ''We asked, what would it take foryou guys to get on the same page?'' said Bill Graustein. And thenGMF offered to keep bringing the groups together to hammerout a unified agenda for reform. GMF contributed the funds,the meeting space, and staff sweat equity. Soon the ConnecticutEarly Childhood Alliance was born. With substantial effort by itsnonprofit members and other key stakeholders, formation of theAlliance led to the organizations finally working in alignment.The group members collectively became a major influence inestablishing the Connecticut state legislature's priorities for earlychildhood development.

Solving adaptive challenges requires work that can be doneonly by those who are involved directly with the issue. Changetypically calls for a switch in behavior, beliefs, or values on the partof those with an interest in the problem, and this type of changecan't be imposed by parties outside the issue. Catalytic donorscommitted to achieving adaptive change need to provoke debate,encourage new thinking, and advance learning by and among keystakeholders. They need to mobilize the parties to work towarda solution, rather than imposing one. It's all about creating theconditions for change to happen.

The authors of Switch refer to this process as ''shaping thepath.'' One way to shape the path is to tweak the environmentfor people. See if you can ''make the journey easier. Createa steep downhill slope and give them a push. Remove somefriction from the trail.'' Graustein and Nee understood this asthey engaged local collaborative efforts in Connecticut. Part ofGMF's message to communities was to do the opposite of whatpeople making plans for new resources typically do. Says DavidNee, ''We suggested to people that they not try to come up withbig ideas that would cost big money. But instead look for lowcostways to improve early childhood outcomes. This way they'ddevelop programs that could actually get implemented. We didn'tsuggest how they should do that, but we wanted them to thinkabout it.''

The city of New Britain was one of the Connecticut communitiesGMF began working with. Taking GMF's advice, NewBritain came up with an innovative solution GMF never couldhave figured out for them. The solution came from an unusualsource--someone who had never before been invited to theearly childhood dialogue--the head of pediatrics at New Britain'slargest hospital. This physician proposed that pediatricians in thecommunity begin doing developmental assessments of childrenfrom newborns to age three to help determine children's individualneeds. The kicker in the idea was that these developmentalassessments would be reimbursed by insurance. Excited by thepower of the idea, the pediatrics head became a champion amonghis colleagues for performing developmental assessments acrossthe community--leading to improved, quality attention to earlychildhood outcomes at no additional cost to the city of NewBritain.

This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.