Most nonprofits, including PACEs Connection, are born into a limited funding world with numerous hurdles and unwritten rules. For example, many foundations don’t accept unsolicited requests. You have to find someone who can provide an introduction to a funder, build a relationship, then be invited to submit a request, followed by several layers of review. The average time from first contact to money in the bank is 18 months. Most grants provide two to three years of funding. By the end of the grant, funders want nonprofits to figure out how to be sustainable. The answer is: Usually by finding a different foundation and repeating the process.
So, if a major funder who has assured continued funding suddenly pulls out without warning just before the next year’s funding is due to start, eliminating one-third of the nonprofit’s budget, that nonprofit’s future is in jeopardy. That recently happened to PACEs Connection.
(Similar scenarios occur regularly to other nonprofits. That’s why I’m setting up a community on PACEs Connection for nonprofits and funders. We need a safe place to figure out how to create a PACEs-science/trauma-informed system: one that’s sustainable, transparent, and coordinated where the power is distributed among those who do the work, and those with the funds support the work.)
The irony is, because of the nature of the funding world, we anticipated this. In 2016, we began preparing an approach for PACEs Connection and all communities establishing PACEs initiatives to become self-funded. If you want the details, read this. Here’s our reasoning: Creating a healthy environment in a large community may take up to 40 years. What we’re tackling is as big a challenge as eliminating cancer was in the 1960s, and it needs the same amount of commitment and funding. (We define a healthy environment as most organizations in any community integrating practices and policies based on PACEs science.) We launched the core of our new approach, the PACEs Connection Cooperative of Communities in 2019, then COVID hit, and we relaunched early last year.
I believe passionately in our work, as do the members of this community and our partners in the PACEs science/trauma-informed world. We’ve all seen too many times where simply the awareness of this new knowledge of PACEs science changes people’s understanding of their own lives and compels them to embark on a different path. Their work has led to schools where there’s no need to expel or suspend students, juvenile detention centers and prisons that replace violence with hope and a future, communities where people once addicted to opioids heal. I could go on and on.
We have a long way to go. Many people think that everyone knows about PACEs science by now, but it’s still a small percentage of the population. Although you hear the word “trauma” often these days, most people don’t really know what it means. Many people who teach trauma-informed practices and care never mention the foundational PACEs science. In our way of thinking, if you can’t identify the trauma, you can’t prevent it or even understand it. Ten years isn’t enough for us and others in the PACEs science/trauma-informed community to complete our work. In fact, we're just getting started.
The daily headlines scream discrimination, injustice, unnecessary death and injury, tragedy and sorrow, all of which, because of this new knowledge, is unnecessary. We can solve our most intractable problems. The one intractable problem we can’t do much about is climate change, but we can make a huge difference in how people and communities respond and adapt.
When I launched then-ACEs Connection in 2012, I wanted to create a social network where people could learn about the science of positive and adverse childhood experiences, connect with each other to share best and worst practices, and replicate that approach in thousands of communities across the world. I am a long-time health, science and technology journalist (Boston Globe, New York Times, National Geographic, Los Angeles Times, Discovery Channel). Two years after launch, I was fortunate to obtain funding from The California Endowment (for eight years), The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (seven years), Genentech (six years), Seedlings Foundation (four years), the George Sarlo Foundation and the Lisa Stone Pritzker Family Foundation (four years), and St. David's Foundation (one year). Over the last eight years, together they donated about $9 million in total to support our work.
PACEs Connection reminds me of the parable about the blind men and the elephant: Millions of people have interacted in one way or another with PACEs Connection, but few interact with it in its entirety or understand how the parts of our ecosystem work together to help power this PACEs movement. In a nutshell, PACEs Connection:
- Educates people about the profound interplay between positive and adverse childhood experiences, and how organizations that integrate policies and practices based on PACEs science can solve a community’s most intractable problems. We do this via our Daily Digest, Weekly Roundup, webinars, a news site for the general public (ACEsTooHigh.com), articles that are read by millions, and building relationships with individuals and communities.
- Connects pioneers who implement solutions with those who are looking for solutions, and people doing the work with each other to reduce reinventing the wheel.
- Grows PACEs initiatives in communities and provides two unique tools developed with our communities so they can measure their progress: a DEI tool to assess ongoing inclusion of people from different sectors and demographics, including ethnicities, races, geographies, genders, disabilities, ages, sexual orientation, religions, and country of origin; and the Community Resilience Tracker, which measures outcomes in organizations and sectors in near real-time.
- Tells data-driven stories to help communities understand what’s working and what’s not, and provides an updated Resource Center chock full of presentations to use, handouts, links to research, etc.
- Embeds all this work in a framework of diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism.
PACEs Connection, with 57,000 members and growing, has created a network of more than 450 PACEs initiatives in communities (towns, cities, counties, states) to implement cross-sector solutions to help them solve their most intractable problems. Our goal is 5,000 over the next five years, which will be close to a tipping point, according to Damon Centola, author of Change: How to Make Big Things Happen. We calculate that we need three years of funding to achieve our goal of becoming self-sustaining.
We’ve been extremely fortunate with the support we’ve had from our funders. They’ve been wonderful, and we have good relationships with our program officers. But even they know the system is broken. In a recent webinar, program officers from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Doris Duke Foundation said that they realized that they needed to develop authentic relationships with communities to learn from them instead of deciding what they should do. They acknowledged that the issues that nonprofits tackle take longer than a two- or three-year funding cycle to solve. And they needed to figure out a better way to develop sustainability. In my conversations with other funders, they say the same.
So, what’s our ask? We have two: We’re looking for a few bold funders who are in this for the long haul, as we are, to support us with $3.2 million through this three-year transition. We're looking for funders with whom we can partner to grow the PACEs movement into something similar to the Energy Foundation, a unified, connected ecosystem of support that’s led by the people who do the work. If you know of any (or know people who know people), please connect us. If you're a funder who wants to discuss this, please contact me at email@example.com.
We’re also asking for you, our members, to donate what you can. You’re already in the company of bold leaders who understand the importance of this work; most of you are making huge changes in your personal and working lives. We so appreciate you and everyone in this community. We're awed and inspired by you every day.