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Our Project Introduction

Our project, An Evaluation of Resourceful Communities’ Creating New Economies Fund (CNEF), is a client-based master project expected completed by May 2013. The goal of our project is to evaluate the impacts of CNEF, the small grants arm of Resourceful Communities. It will focus on developing and carrying out an evaluation of the projects supported through the CNEF program. We hope that this evaluation will benefit CNEF by providing an assessment that will improve the program itself as well as the organization’s ability to communicate its impact with funders and the public.

Research Background

Our client, Resourceful Communities is a program of the Conservation Fund whose mission is to “implement the ‘triple bottom line’ in low-wealth communities by building capacity and a statewide movement that advocates for sustainable economic development, social justice, and environmental stewardship.” Since its founding in 1991, Resourceful Communities has provided resources and guidance to a group of more than 250 grassroots organizations in North Carolina.

CNEF has been providing small investments for projects undertaken by community groups in
North Carolina for 10 years. The funding provided by CNEF is paired with training to help recipients leverage additional funds, increase volunteer support, and establish credibility. Resourceful Communities promotes a “Triple Bottom Line” philosophy of sustainability, so all projects must have environmental, economic, and social impacts. According to the organization, more than 50,000 people in North Carolina have been impacted by the $2 million CNEF has made in grants. Additionally, it reported that CNEF supported projects have created more than 425 jobs, strengthened more than 400 acres of family farm operations, and leveraged $12 million in new investments.

While the projects supported by CNEF have demonstrated many positive impacts in local communities, Resourceful Communities has reported that measuring and evaluating the aggregate impacts of the CNEF program has been difficult because current reporting and evaluation tools are insufficient. When reporting the impacts of CNEF, Resourceful Communities has focused on enumerating outcomes (e.g. the number of jobs created) and describing impacts qualitatively. However, these approaches are not enough to effectively show that the projects CNEF funds meet the goal of Triple Bottom Line Sustainability, so a more thorough, higher level evaluation is needed.