PropelNext Update

EMCF started PropelNext in 2012 to help promising nonprofits boost their impact on young people’s lives.  

I am pleased to report that PropelNext grantees are successfully using the tools they have gained through the initiative to convert their deep commitment to youth into a strategic force for changing young lives.

In the past year, the first cohort of grantees redesigned or refined its programs to make them more effective, and began implementing these improved program models. The programmatic changes sprang from careful analysis of their data and a review of the best available evidence. And with expert technical assistance from our consulting partners, all 13 grantees are now using new or upgraded performance management systems to measure program delivery and monitor results.

Perhaps the best way to understand the progress of our grantees is through one of their stories. Taller San Jose in Santa Ana, CA was founded to serve the most disconnected, hardest-to-reach, low-income youth – 18-to-25-year-olds with major skill deficits who had trouble finding and keeping jobs. Many lacked stable housing and did very poorly in school, usually dropping out. Taller offers job training to help these young people prepare for employment, and support services to stabilize and turn around their lives.

Over the years, Taller – like many organizations that see tremendous unmet needs in their communities – began unwittingly to drift from these extremely disadvantaged young people and include those with a few more assets; for example, it began working with more students who read at the ninth-grade level instead of fifth-to-eighth-grade levels.

By collecting and analyzing their data, Taller’s staff recognized this unintended shift. They considered their options and recommitted themselves to serving the “highest-risk” young people by developing a more purposeful and focused approach to target and recruit them. For example, Taller defined and instituted specific, measurable qualifications for participating in the program. Today, Taller’s data shows 77 percent of the young people participating have the greatest gaps and fewest options, up from 36 percent two years ago. 

Remarkably, in spite of working with this more challenging group of students, retention has improved slightly – showing that Taller’s program design is meeting the needs of many of its participants – while reading and math levels are rising. With the tools and strategies acquired and developed through PropelNext, Taller San Jose has begun to increase its effectiveness, which is inspiring its staff to strive for even greater impact.

As our inaugural class entered its third and final year, PropelNext geared up for our second cohort of grantees. EMCF is partnering with four foundations—the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Sobrato Family Foundation, and Weingart Foundation—to launch the PropelNext California Partnership. Jointly, the five foundations will identify and fund 15 youth-serving organizations, which we plan to announce in summer 2015.

If you haven’t already, I hope you will visit PropelNext’s new online home at Over time, we hope to build this site into a resource for nonprofits interested in taking their own journeys to greater performance and learning. 

While I am proud of the progress this initiative has achieved, I believe our most important accomplishments this year are the ones you can’t see: the hard work, dedication and grit of all our grantees as they have galvanized their organizations in pursuit of quality and better results for youth. We know effective and fully engaged leaders are a prerequisite to building an organizational culture focused on outcomes and learning. The work that goes on behind the scenes of PropelNext is the magic necessary to produce the kinds of results that help shift the life trajectories of disadvantaged youth. I salute these leaders, am inspired by their dedication, and look forward to helping them do their jobs even better.   


Lissette Rodriguez
Managing Director, PropelNext