||Resourceful Communities is a program of The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit
that promotes conservation and sustainable economic development. In 2001, Resourceful
Communities established the Creating New Economies Fund (CNEF), a program to support
triple bottom line community development work in North Carolina. The triple bottom
line approach integrates sustainable economic development, environmental stewardship,
and social justice to create solutions to challenges facing communities in North Carolina.
Each year, CNEF awards small grants to partner organizations to develop and implement
community-driven triple bottom line projects. Resourceful Communities has experienced
difficulty in communicating the aggregate impacts of the partner projects that they
support, which may be a result of inadequate reporting and evaluation tools, and is
also confounded by the wide variety of projects they support. Resourceful Communities
has requested that our team conduct a thorough evaluation of CNEF that will be used
to clearly communicate their impacts, as well as provide recommendations to guide
CNEF in improving the program and its reporting processes.
We evaluated the impacts of the most recent three years of projects (2009-2011) supported
by CNEF using a mixed-method approach, including surveys, interviews, site visits,
and review of reports submitted by CNEF grantees. We distributed an online survey
to grantee project leaders designed to gather information on the triple bottom line
impacts of the projects. We conducted nine interviews with grantee project staff to
better understand project impacts and gather grantees’ opinions on how CNEF could
be improved. We performed three site visits to talk with project staff in person and
to see some of the on-the-ground work being done by grantees. Finally, we reviewed
all final reports submitted by the grantees to CNEF in order to gain information on
projects that were not included in the survey or interviews. We used NVivo 10 qualitative
analysis software to analyze qualitative data, and we used STATA and Excel to perform
statistical analysis on quantitative data.
We found that CNEF supported projects are contributing to triple bottom line sustainability
in North Carolina in significant and widely varied ways. Further, we found the CNEF
program fosters integration of the three components of the triple bottom line, community
engagement, leveraged funding, and increased organizational capacity in the projects
it supports. Based on our findings we were able to offer several recommendations to
Resourceful Communities that might improve the CNEF program and its reporting practices.