Natika Washington writes that 100&Change gave her organization a well-timed opportunity to frame its solution, raise its profile, and ultimately transform lives inside America’s prisons.
By 2016 Prison Fellowship—the nation’s largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners, and their families—had fine-tuned an innovative program to help address the nationwide crisis of crime and incarceration: the Prison Fellowship Academy. Our new CEO at the time, James Ackerman, was determined to scale the Academy for major social impact, and he led us to launch a 10-year campaign to establish 172 Academy sites in prisons nationwide.
The Prison Fellowship Academy operates at 81 correctional institutions in 26 states. It is a holistic, year-long program that addresses risk factors highly associated with criminal behavior and promotes core values of good citizenship using proven curricula and evidence-based practices. Simply put, it transforms lives.
Research in Texas, conducted by the Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society, showed that graduates of our most intensive Academy sites experienced reduced risk of re-arrest (51 percent) and reincarceration (60 percent). In Minnesota, Academy graduates experienced reduced risk of re-arrest (26 percent), reconviction (35 percent), and new offense reincarceration (40 percent). A companion study reported that our program in Minnesota resulted in a benefit of $3 million through reduced costs associated with lower recidivism.
Though the campaign to scale up the Academy would require significant funding increases, we remained off the radar of major philanthropic organizations. MacArthur’s 100&Change competition gave us a well-timed opportunity to frame our solution and raise our profile. The competition spurred us to refine our message that prisoners can be transformed—from the inside out—into good citizens through a holistic, replicable model.
The 100&Change judges identified Prison Fellowship as a Top 200 scoring applicant and validated that our strategy is meaningful, verifiable, feasible, and durable. Buoyed by that validation, our CEO sought a senior-level candidate with expertise in high-capacity foundations and corporate philanthropy. Soon I joined Prison Fellowship to lead a team of two grants management development officers. With my team, I’ve developed a strategy to engage and secure new Academy funders. We began by sending letters of introduction, bearing the 100&Change Top 200 seal, to foundations and corporations with the capacity to make multi-year or annual gifts up to $200 million.
MacArthur connected us with other opportunities, like The University of Pennsylvania Center for High Impact Philanthropy (CHIP). CHIP reviewed our proposal and featured Prison Fellowship as one of its 11 “Best Bets” for organizations driving social change. We leveraged this honor by publicizing our “Best Bets” selection to foundations and corporations through targeted mailings. From the initial meetings that resulted, we plan to cultivate long-term, sustainable partnerships with new funding organizations. More recently, with the help of the 100&Change team, we received call-backs from contacts at the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.
Having the MacArthur Foundation as a partner is invaluable. In addition to the added credibility and exposure we received from the competition, we hope to learn from MacArthur how to best leverage these benefits to establish new funding relationships with higher-capacity organizations.
Incarceration and recidivism are a blight on our nation, and Prison Fellowship aims to restore those most affected. The 100&Change competition and subsequent recognitions are helping us raise our profile, develop critical new funding relationships, and ultimately transform lives inside America’s prisons.