Lessons Learned and Recommendations

Lessons LearnedEveryone who played a role in the development and implementation of the Fellows Program was thoughtful about what had worked best, and many also had ideas about strong elements that could have been even more effective. A summary follows.

  1. The Foundation consistently signaled respect for faculty experts, showed interest in experimentation and learning, and acted in a spirit of partnership. Most significantly, it defined a few focused Program requirements and left a great deal of choice to Project Directors. The Directors decided how to implement the Program on their campus, developed their own Fellow recruitment and selection processes, and allocated Fellow and Program stipends. By clearly scoping its requirements, the Foundation ensured a cohesive program. By delegating significant authority to Project Directors, it recognized that multiple models might (and did) work. Small gestures, such paying out grants in full, mailing grant checks directly to the Project Directors rather than to university development offices, and allowing them to decide how to use Fellowship funds, all conveyed respect and collegiality. This was so unusual in academic funding that Mark Hoelscher, Project Director at Illinois State University, commented, “In fact they were so open about how we wanted to work our programs that it would drive our grants’ accounting people nuts.” All praised the Program for helping them to build broader support for entrepreneurship education across campus, and connected the Fellows Program to important achievements on their campuses, such as big increases in interdisciplinary classes.
    • Recommendation: Several Project Directors noted that the Coleman Foundation has cachet across the U.S. and beyond in the world of entrepreneurship education, which burnished their academic credentials and helped raise their profiles within their institutions. They wondered, however, if this prestige had been fully recognized by the Foundation Board and staff. The Foundation might have invested in communications about the Program to raise its public profile. This would likely have had benefits for Project Directors and Fellows, and helped to facilitate fundraising from other sources on campus and beyond.
  2. Multilayered resources—grants, plus a Program Coordinator, plus a community of practice—were deployed to optimize the likelihood of success. The most successful— grants, annual gatherings, on-campus meetings of Project Directors and Fellows, access to one another’s syllabi, and training scholarships—were highly valued and appear to have served as critical connective tissue.
    • Question: Might more emphasis have been placed on developing the Program’s scope and ambitions over time? The number of schools and Fellows grew steadily from inception. Once that success had been achieved, it may have been beneficial to consider whether additional elements and goals could have built on and increased the Program’s value. Perhaps this might have created an opportunity for newer Foundation board members (who seemed less interested in the Program) to help shape and thus feel more attachment to it.
  3. The Program sustained support for high quality work. Nearly two-thirds of schools sought and were awarded funding from one year to the next, for three to ten years. This allowed for deep and broad Program development on campuses.
    • Recommendation: Multi-year commitments to proven schools would have simplified campus and Foundation administration and better signaled extended commitment. “When you go year-to-year-to-year-to-year, it’s difficult to convince an administrator that you’re going to have the grant next year,” observed one Project Director.
  4. Investment was scaled to keep resources for Program continuation within reach of those who might remain active after the Foundation’s funding ended. From the outset, the Coleman Foundation encouraged Project Directors to seek financial and administrative support from their dean or provost, institutional buy-in that would enhance sustainability. This hope was inconsistently realized. Some Project Directors wished, in retrospect, that the Foundation had required more financial buy-in from their institutions, which would have better prepared them to continue the Program features they found most important. Fortunately, this has not proved to be a fatal flaw.
    • Recommendation: Earlier and greater emphasis on leveraging support for the Program within the institution may have further raised the odds of sustainability, and also promoted greater Program development over time. Options might have included:
      1. Foundation funding through an intermediary from the start10
      2. Partnering with one or more other funders
      3. Requiring contributions toward Program costs from each school
      4. Use of a Program-Related Investment to test whether a revenue-generating stream could have been developed for the Program, as suggested by the Program Coordinator
  5. The Foundation was realistic and open about the difficulty of showing Program impact by quantifying new business development by students and former students. Practical factors, including college debt, result in a low rate of new business development by younger adults. Longitudinal research is challenging and expensive. The Foundation accepted that indicators of success would be indirect but suggestive, and relied primarily on informal assessment, mainly from the grantees and the Program Coordinator.
    • Recommendation: Despite very real challenges of tracking student entrepreneurship over time, having information about whether and how former students become business owners would have been meaningful. Some colleges and universities now track post-graduation success, in-house or by using third-part services. Perhaps the Foundation might have contracted with a few schools to monitor self-employment by former students. Alternately the Foundation might have created a limited number of cash prizes to incentivize former students to notify the Foundation when they began a business, and exchanged an award for an interview. Findings would have fleshed out the picture of how interdisciplinary entrepreneurship influences and prepares students.

10In 2013, the Foundation explored transferring the Program to another institution. No viable option emerged, as is often the case with foundation-created programs. Typically, the prospective host wants the same level of funding (at least) as the foundation has been providing, plus an understanding that it will now operate the program as it sees fit. On the front end of funding, such requirements may seem much more palatable to grantmakers.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

Lessons LearnedEveryone who played a role in the development and implementation of the Fellows Program was thoughtful about what had worked best, and many also had ideas about strong elements that could have been even more effective. A summary follows.

  1. The Foundation consistently signaled respect for faculty experts, showed interest in experimentation and learning, and acted in a spirit of partnership. Most significantly, it defined a few focused Program requirements and left a great deal of choice to Project Directors. The Directors decided how to implement the Program on their campus, developed their own Fellow recruitment and selection processes, and allocated Fellow and Program stipends. By clearly scoping its requirements, the Foundation ensured a cohesive program. By delegating significant authority to Project Directors, it recognized that multiple models might (and did) work. Small gestures, such paying out grants in full, mailing grant checks directly to the Project Directors rather than to university development offices, and allowing them to decide how to use Fellowship funds, all conveyed respect and collegiality. This was so unusual in academic funding that Mark Hoelscher, Project Director at Illinois State University, commented, “In fact they were so open about how we wanted to work our programs that it would drive our grants’ accounting people nuts.” All praised the Program for helping them to build broader support for entrepreneurship education across campus, and connected the Fellows Program to important achievements on their campuses, such as big increases in interdisciplinary classes.
    • Recommendation: Several Project Directors noted that the Coleman Foundation has cachet across the U.S. and beyond in the world of entrepreneurship education, which burnished their academic credentials and helped raise their profiles within their institutions. They wondered, however, if this prestige had been fully recognized by the Foundation Board and staff. The Foundation might have invested in communications about the Program to raise its public profile. This would likely have had benefits for Project Directors and Fellows, and helped to facilitate fundraising from other sources on campus and beyond.
  2. Multilayered resources—grants, plus a Program Coordinator, plus a community of practice—were deployed to optimize the likelihood of success. The most successful— grants, annual gatherings, on-campus meetings of Project Directors and Fellows, access to one another’s syllabi, and training scholarships—were highly valued and appear to have served as critical connective tissue.
    • Question: Might more emphasis have been placed on developing the Program’s scope and ambitions over time? The number of schools and Fellows grew steadily from inception. Once that success had been achieved, it may have been beneficial to consider whether additional elements and goals could have built on and increased the Program’s value. Perhaps this might have created an opportunity for newer Foundation board members (who seemed less interested in the Program) to help shape and thus feel more attachment to it.
  3. The Program sustained support for high quality work. Nearly two-thirds of schools sought and were awarded funding from one year to the next, for three to ten years. This allowed for deep and broad Program development on campuses.
    • Recommendation: Multi-year commitments to proven schools would have simplified campus and Foundation administration and better signaled extended commitment. “When you go year-to-year-to-year-to-year, it’s difficult to convince an administrator that you’re going to have the grant next year,” observed one Project Director.
  4. Investment was scaled to keep resources for Program continuation within reach of those who might remain active after the Foundation’s funding ended. From the outset, the Coleman Foundation encouraged Project Directors to seek financial and administrative support from their dean or provost, institutional buy-in that would enhance sustainability. This hope was inconsistently realized. Some Project Directors wished, in retrospect, that the Foundation had required more financial buy-in from their institutions, which would have better prepared them to continue the Program features they found most important. Fortunately, this has not proved to be a fatal flaw.
    • Recommendation: Earlier and greater emphasis on leveraging support for the Program within the institution may have further raised the odds of sustainability, and also promoted greater Program development over time. Options might have included:
      1. Foundation funding through an intermediary from the start10
      2. Partnering with one or more other funders
      3. Requiring contributions toward Program costs from each school
      4. Use of a Program-Related Investment to test whether a revenue-generating stream could have been developed for the Program, as suggested by the Program Coordinator
  5. The Foundation was realistic and open about the difficulty of showing Program impact by quantifying new business development by students and former students. Practical factors, including college debt, result in a low rate of new business development by younger adults. Longitudinal research is challenging and expensive. The Foundation accepted that indicators of success would be indirect but suggestive, and relied primarily on informal assessment, mainly from the grantees and the Program Coordinator.
    • Recommendation: Despite very real challenges of tracking student entrepreneurship over time, having information about whether and how former students become business owners would have been meaningful. Some colleges and universities now track post-graduation success, in-house or by using third-part services. Perhaps the Foundation might have contracted with a few schools to monitor self-employment by former students. Alternately the Foundation might have created a limited number of cash prizes to incentivize former students to notify the Foundation when they began a business, and exchanged an award for an interview. Findings would have fleshed out the picture of how interdisciplinary entrepreneurship influences and prepares students.

10In 2013, the Foundation explored transferring the Program to another institution. No viable option emerged, as is often the case with foundation-created programs. Typically, the prospective host wants the same level of funding (at least) as the foundation has been providing, plus an understanding that it will now operate the program as it sees fit. On the front end of funding, such requirements may seem much more palatable to grantmakers.

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