February 10, 2014

The Stranahan Foundation

By Bellwether

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About Stranahan Foundation

The Stranahan Foundation is a family-governed, professionally-managed foundation headquartered in Toledo, Ohio, with an endowment of approximately $95 million and annual giving of $3.3 to $4.8 million over the past 3 years. Historically, the Foundation has made grants to a range of programs that are located in communities where family members live in order to address priorities in education, health and mental health, ecological stewardship, arts and culture, and human services.


In 2009, the Foundation Trustees decided to establish a new Strategic Initiative to drive greater impact in an area of particular priority for the foundation and selected education as the focus for that initiative.

Our Approach

Over a series of engagements, Bellwether worked with Stranahan Foundation staff and trustees to help them identify and articulate the Foundation’s priorities for strategic investment in education, attract a high-quality pool of potential grantees, select the most promising grantees from that pool, and monitor the impact of their grantees’ work and overall foundation investment strategy. 

Initially, Bellwether staff members – along with other nationally respected experts – helped the Foundation’s staff to educate their trustees about a range of education reform issues across the pipeline, from early childhood to K – 12 to post-secondary. Once the trustees zeroed in on both teacher effectiveness and early childhood education as areas of focus, Bellwether was engaged once again to work with the Foundation to articulate a set of priorities designed to focus investments on the activities most likely to have meaningful impacts on low-income children. Bellwether staff drafted a white paper that reviewed the relevant research and outlined key decisions and questions for the Trustees. We also helped the CEO plan a board meeting at which trustees heard from various experts in the early childhood field. And we facilitated a discussion that led to consensus around strategies for impacting early childhood teacher effectiveness as the focus of their investments in education. Following that meeting, we worked with the Foundation’s staff to draft a statement of priorities that distilled that consensus into a brief document that reflected the Foundation’s goals and could be shared with stakeholders, partners, and potential grantees.

Bellwether also worked with the Foundation staff and trustees to identify, select, and monitor an exemplary set of grantees addressing the trustees’ identified priorities. We helped the Foundation to broadly disseminate its statement of priorities to solicit recommendations for potential grantees and to select a pool of promising candidates from whom to solicit grant proposals. We then helped the Foundation staff to conduct due diligence on prospective grantees and provided expert input to staff and board review of applicants. Once the board had approved grantees, we worked with the Foundation’s staff to design progress monitoring and reporting requirements tailored to each grantee’s work and to review the results of each grantee’s work to inform board decisions on future funding. 


As a result of Bellwether’s work, the Stranahan Foundation has awarded approximately $4.5 million to nine outstanding grantees representing a range of approaches to improving teacher quality in early childhood education. Two of the nine grantees have received highly competitive Investing in Innovation (i3) grants from the U.S. Department of Education, reflecting the exemplary quality of grantees that the Foundation has selected and further leveraging Foundation funds. 

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