Our team had just finalized our (very new) organization’s first formal strategic plan when COVID-19 began disrupting life as we knew it. Since then, our favorite word has been “pivot,” as in, “we’re going to have to pivot.” CFP’s tools are only valuable if communities can use them to fund opportunities for kids, so we’ve been working as a team to translate our framework of policy levers (Find, Align, Generate, and Activate) into FEASIBLE strategies to consider in light of COVID-19. You can read last week’s post on FIND here.

Today, we’re focusing on the second of these two levers: Align. Due to COVID-19, systems are being forced to find new and creative ways to work together and maximize resources. Relaxed funding stream requirements create opportunities for flexibility. See below for the immediate, midterm, and long-term action steps you can take to use your existing sources of funding to best serve kids now and in the future.

‘Align’: Making policy decisions that encourage the most efficient and effective use of funding we already have.

Short term (1 month)
  • We developed a tool to help you get started in understanding the past month’s astounding increase in flexibility of federal funding streams that support children and youth: Navigating New and Flexible Funding Streams for Kids During COVID-19. Use the tool, gather your agency leaders, and think about how you can use flexibility to meet the unique needs of your state or community in this moment. Are there opportunities to adjust state and local funding requirements to allow for similar increases in flexibility or to support maximization of federal funding flexibility?
  • One way that local communities are maximizing alignment in the short term is by creating virtual “funder tables” where both public and private funders coordinate to reduce resource gaps and overlaps. A key strategy that local funder tables are employing is the creation of universal, one-page emergency funding applications that service providers can use to reach multiple funders simultaneously. 
  • If you are a part of your local children’s cabinet, chances are you are working double-time to keep a pulse on the constant changes and emergent needs within your government and community. Be adamant about virtually convening your members. Find ways to demonstrate the myriad benefits of this cross-sector collaboration, such as being a communication hub for families and providers in a time of chaos, and reducing duplicate efforts.
Midterm (within 6 months)
  • Your teams have likely already been demonstrating “alignment” as they work collaboratively to meet immediate needs. You may be following the old adage of ‘just do it and ask for forgiveness later’, strange bedfellows may be forming (from an appropriate social distance), and utilization of your children’s cabinet as a hub may feel more critical than ever. How can you document some of the ways you are doing things that seem to be working better? Who can you task to work on this from their dining room table?
Long term (within 1-2 years)

As we start to come out of this, there will be a fork in the road: will we attempt to go back to business as usual or… knowing what we know now, will we identify an entirely different way of working together?

  • Use your assessment of these newfound flexibilities in funding and your examples of how things worked better to institutionalize them: create MOUs to solidify new collaborative relationships; make a permanent seat at the table for formerly-strange bedfellows; align reporting methods and requirements across systems.
  • If you struggled to leverage the flexibilities of certain funding streams or wished to have a better coordination of children and youth serving efforts and priorities, advocate to form a children’s cabinet or similar coordinating body. Having a working cabinet will benefit your community’s ‘normal’ programs as well as help you be more prepared for future unforeseen disruptions. These kinds of cross-agency leadership bodies have a shared set of goals and indicators they measure and are made for sharing resources and aligning service delivery with one another.

This is not general theoretical work; it requires digging into details and tasking teams with prioritizing better alignment. If we can carry the collaborative practices that emerge in a crisis into the new world with us, we will be more efficient, more effective, and – most importantly – be able to drive toward more equitable systems.

For more information and examples of the ALIGN lever, including a checklist and case studies, visit our website: childrensfundingproject.org.

Elizabeth Gaines is CEO of Children’s Funding Project.