by Melanie Priest, director of grants services, Hedges

Collaboration. Relationships. Connections. Alliances. According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, these are all words that are synonymous with partnerships. Strategic community partnerships in the nonprofit sector are the key to success for many reasons including:

  • Achieving greater programmatic impact;
  • Increasing visibility and awareness;
  • Diversifying staff skills and expertise;
  • Improving sustainability; and
  • Attaining additional resources such as increased volunteers and funding

In fact, of 1,192 grant makers surveyed by the Urban Institute, 69 percent reported that they actively encourage collaboration among grantees. Of those respondents, 42 percent indicated they often require partnerships as a condition for funding. Grant makers also indicated that strategic partnerships with clearly defined roles improve cooperation among agencies, leading to greater accountability, capacity building, and better program results (Mission Driven Strategies for Effective Nonprofit Program Development, Candid, 2020).

One Indianapolis nonprofit organization that has emerged as a leader in investing in the community by developing and engaging in strategic partnerships is the Community Alliance of the Far Eastside (CAFE).

CAFE has served as an anchor institution in Indianapolis’ Far Eastside neighborhood for the past 26 years. Guided in the last two years by CEO Kendra Nowell, the organization has widened and deepened its role, moving from a traditional community center to a community leader committed to building the long-term sustainability of the Far Eastside.

Sensing the organization had outgrown its previous vision and mission, CAFE’s board of directors and key staff engaged in a process in 2023 to review, reflect on, and revise its vision, mission, and values statements, concluding with new, adopted statements to guide the organization’s continued impact in the Far Eastside.

Through this process, CAFE casted a vision where the Far Eastside is an “inclusive, thriving, and safe community where people of all ages can live, learn, work, and play with a spirit of caring.” CAFE will achieve this vision through a mission that places a strong emphasis on partnerships. The updated mission is to “elevate quality of life within the Far Eastside by strengthening partnerships, maximizing resources, and empowering residents to achieve their highest potential through increased economic mobility, stability, and self-sufficiency.”

As a result of this new vision and mission, CAFE has leveraged its position as a pillar of the Far Eastside and focused attention on how to best invest and improve the Far Eastside community through partnerships. While CAFE has worked in the past 26 years to diligently to develop community collaborations, the shift to more strategic partnerships that truly advance the neighborhood has become evident in the following ways:

Delivering programs. CAFE collaborates with an array of local community organizations, apartment complexes, schools, and churches to provide direct services for clients in the areas of housing, legal services, immigration services, mentoring, employment readiness and skill building, early childhood education and childcare, health care services, and other basic needs. The number of partners is too long to list and ever evolving to meet clients’ needs however a few examples include Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership, IndyReads, Pathway Resource Center, Easterseals Crossroads, Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center, and the John H. Boner Center. In recent years, CAFE has also partnered with grassroots organizations such as and businesses such as Heart2Heart Counseling, The Ross Foundation, and J. Posley LLC which truly understand the community through lived experiences of the Far Eastside neighborhood and are able to deliver services with a focus on cultural competency.

Sharing space. CAFE partners with community organizations to rent space onsite at its facility. This provides clients with many services under one roof which is valuable in a neighborhood where residents often face transportation barriers. CAFE’s 56,000-square-foot facility houses its own comprehensive services along with programs provided by La Plaza, Family Development Services/Head Start, the Marion County Health Department’s WIC program, Finish Line Boys and Girls Club, the Damien Center, Marion County Sheriff’s Parole services, Indiana Department of Workforce Development’s Work One program, and Warren Township School’s Walker Career Center.

Convening and facilitating: CAFE also convenes and facilitates many groups that exist to advance a variety of community improvements and economic development projects that increase the vitality of the neighborhood. Groups and initiatives like the Far Eastside Community Council, Collective Impact Council, Apartment Managers Roundtable, and the Eastside Neighborhood Action and Community Team hold their meetings at CAFE’s facility and are instrumental in addressing needs related to education, employment access, crime, safety, and food access.

In the past two years, there have been increased opportunities for funding to elevate the quality of life while reducing violence and poverty for vulnerable populations who have experienced inequities for generations. The Central Indiana Community Foundation’s Elevation Grant and the Urban League’s Indianapolis African American Quality of Life Initiative are both opportunities that align with CAFE’s vision, mission, and strategic goals.

These revenue streams have enabled CAFE to embark on enhanced partnerships and invest in the Far Eastside community by working with community-based organizations. To date, CAFE has partnered with and invested in six organizations that have a spectrum of experience, capacity, and readiness to complete the requirements for the grant proposals as well as to manage significant funds. The organizations are Crown Community Development Corporation, The Kween Project, M.O.V.E., New Direction Church, Project Free University, and The Ross Foundation. CAFE worked with these organizations by:

Allocating resources. CAFE’s consultants work closely with the organizations to learn more about their programs, identify programmatic outcomes and impact, and develop budgets. As a result of this information exchange, comprehensive grant proposals are prepared and submitted on behalf of the organizations. The expenses for these services have been covered by CAFE.

Taking fiscal responsibility. Once the grants are awarded, CAFE’s staff works with the organizations on management of the grants. Managing the grants during periods of one or two years requires regular reporting, careful monitoring of how the funds are spent along with gathering the corresponding documentation, and data collection and analysis.

Building capacity. CAFE’s staff and consultants do not do the work for these organizations alone. It is because of true collaborations and significant input and effort from the organizations’ staff members that the partnerships have been a success. The funding has enabled the organizations to hire more staff, provide services to more clients, and make a deeper impact. The organizations have also learned how to manage grant funding. In fact, two of the organizations are now managing grant awards without CAFE as a fiscal agent and another is emerging and aspiring to get to this level.

CAFE’s partnerships with these agencies have provided the funding needed to significantly expand and enhance their programs, build organizational capacity, and achieve greater sustainability. These investments and collaborations are solutions that will contribute to increasing the quality of life and the vitality of the Far Eastside community for years to come.

Melanie Priest is passionate about making Indianapolis a great place to live, having strong connections in the community, and helping nonprofits share their stories of impact. For nearly 25 years, Melanie has worked closely with the Central Indiana philanthropic community to provide creative solutions to complex problems. As Director of Grants Services at Hedges since 2012, Melanie has secured hundreds of grant awards for dozens of Indianapolis nonprofit organizations to ensure they are able to advance their missions.