Why Bridgeport? Why SEL? Why Social Investing?

In 2012, led by performance management consultant, David Hunter, three generations of Tauck family members, and Foundation staff developed a new Theory of Change and Strategic Logic Model to guide the work of the Foundation over the next decade. Hunter, author of Working Hard and Working Well, a “practical guide to performance management for social sector leaders,”[1] guided the family through a multi-day workshop to establish the new strategic direction for the Foundation. The strategy stayed close to home in Fairfield County and built on the family’s historical funding interests and legacy in travel, including out of school time youth development programs and Sparks, a youth travel program run by the Foundation. At the same time, the new approach completely revamped the way the Foundation worked, who its partners would be, what was required of staff, and how success would be measured.

Founded in 1994, Tauck Family Foundation’s founding purpose was to foster a legacy of giving and community involvement in Connecticut.

The watershed experience felt gratifying for Liz Tauck Walters, TFF board director and its first executive director from 1995 to 2010. During her tenure, Walters partnered with her father, Arthur Tauck Jr., her four siblings Chuck, Kiki, Peter, and Robin, and other family members, to formalize the Foundation and hire professional staff. During 2012 strategic planning, the extended Tauck family looked ahead to a future in which subsequent generations would participate in the Foundation. The foresight that future board members would likely become more geographically dispersed with increasingly varied interests, helped them to commit to an investing strategy that maximized impact by consolidating the Foundation’s assets to invest in one geographic location and one strategy.

Choosing Bridgeport

TFF’s board is made up of three generations of Tauck family members and the original source of funds were from Arthur Tauck Jr. and the extended Tauck Family. The Tauck family owns and operates Tauck, Inc., a luxury guided travel company headquartered in Wilton, Connecticut, and founded by Arthur Tauck Sr. in 1925. The Foundation’s funding sources have diversified over time but are derived solely from family contributions. Neighboring Bridgeport is Connecticut’s largest city with a predominantly Black and Hispanic/Latinx population of approximately 144,000 and a stubborn poverty rate around 21%, almost double the national average.[2] In 2012, when the Foundation’s 5-10 year commitment to Bridgeport was made, the overall child poverty rate in Bridgeport was close to 37.6% with 40.7% of Black children and 38.6% Latinx children growing up in poverty.[3] Fairfield County continues to suffer from massive income inequality and is one of the most unequal regions in the nation.[4] Plagued by a history of government corruption, community violence, a lack of well-paying employment opportunities, and school reform efforts perceived as ineffective by many, the city has an unfortunate reputation among some as a place with seemingly intractable challenges.

However, Bridgeport boasts robust and engaged non-profit and education sectors, driven by a relentless commitment to improving outcomes for the city’s children. In parallel, a defining characteristic of the Tauck family in their business and their giving, is a steadfast commitment to improvement. Kiki Tauck Mahar, a board director, explained that along with a commitment to service, “continuous improvement is in our DNA.” Investees, and the local philanthropy community experienced the small to medium sized family Foundation’s newly crafted plans as “ahead of the curve.” While place-based philanthropy was not a new idea, TFF’s commitment to the single geographic area of Bridgeport, a metropolitan area challenged by poverty and corruption, was perceived as bold. Though the family is geographically dispersed, Fairfield County is where the second generation of Taucks grew up and Bridgeport had significant demonstrable needs. It seemed a logical and values-driven choice to give back to the county where their family business has thrived.

“For a funding organization to completely commit themselves to this area and the city is huge. When TFF decided to focus here, it marked the first time a funder has invested in Bridgeport when it was not ‘politically correct’ to do so. Other funders were saying ‘why would I invest in Bridgeport when the money won't be spent in the right way?”

- TFF Investee Partner

Choosing Social and Emotional Learning

An emphasis on the holistic development of low-income children was always at the core of TFF’s work, though the Foundation’s language shifted over its 25-year history (“youth development” to “essential life skills” to “social and emotional skills”). TFF’s decision to center their grantmaking and assessment on social and emotional learning emerged from the desire to adopt an evidence-based approach to moving the needle on youth outcomes. Amplified by the acute needs of educators and students during the COVID-19 pandemic, SEL now has national attention (including some recent pushback based on misconceptions or political aims) and increasingly wide-spread adoption by schools, districts, and states. However, in 2012, just a few other Foundations had placed a proverbial stake in the ground around SEL. Partly driven by TFF and Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence’s advocacy, the State of Connecticut is emerging as a national SEL leader, enacting multiple laws designed to protect students from punitive discipline  practices and developing the Components of Social, Emotional, and Intellectual Habits, a framework that identifies developmentally appropriate skills and competencies in Kindergarten through Grade 3. The 4th through 12th grade Habits framework is under development.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), the SEL field’s flagship practice, policy, and research organization defines SEL as “an integral part of education and human development.” Specifically, SEL is “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions. SEL advances educational equity and excellence through authentic school-family-community partnerships to establish learning environments and experiences that feature trusting and collaborative relationships, rigorous and meaningful curriculum and instruction, and ongoing evaluation. SEL can help address various forms of inequity and empower young people and adults to co-create thriving schools and contribute to safe, healthy, and just communities.”

While CASEL identifies five core SEL competencies–self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making–TFF initially funded Child Trends, a research organization focused on improving policies and practices that affect vulnerable children and youth, to conduct a literature review to identify a narrower set of child outcomes or life skills–tied closely in the research literature to academic attainment. Child Trends landed on self control, persistence, mastery orientation to learning, academic and self-efficacy. Social competence was also selected as an outcome at the recommendation of field experts.

Robust, long-standing partnerships with The Consultation Center housed at Yale School of Medicine and the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s EASEL Lab, have strengthened several investees’ capacity to implement, measure, and monitor student SEL. Another of the Foundation’s central partnerships has been with Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence (YCEI). YCEI’s Pre-K-12 evidence-based SEL program, the RULER Approach to Social and Emotional Learning (RULER), has been widely implemented by TFF’s investees. RULER, arguably one of the SEL field’s most notable programs, was a logical and convenient choice for investees given Yale’s proximity to Bridgeport (New Haven County, where YCEI is located, borders Fairfield County). While RULER certainly wasn’t the only evidence-based SEL program adopted by TFF investees, YCEI’s and The Consultation Center’s interest in studying district-wide implementation made them enthusiastic and committed partners.

Choosing Social Investing

Another of TFF’s differentiators is its social investing approach and outcomes-focus. Simply defined, this means shifting from a charitable giving mindset (making donations to causes) to becoming a more business-like investor in nonprofit organizations, monitoring a return on investment of concrete, measurable outcomes for the stakeholders the organization serves. While multiple large institutional philanthropies had adopted such an approach, investees and other stakeholders found TFF’s highly structured grantmaking and partnership model unusual for a family Foundation of its size. One investee described TFF as “small but mighty” and though it would have been much easier to simply “cut a check and call it a day,” receiving the funds was only one part of the valuable benefits afforded to them as an investee.

Ideally, social investing leads more reliably to the holy grail of philanthropy: impact. However, grantmaking impact assessment is challenging,[5] particularly when quantifying outcomes across different initiatives with varied constituencies using a range of metrics. That said, measuring and monitoring investee outcomes using qualitative and quantitative data is a central pillar of TFF’s strategy and the way they gauge the likelihood that their investments are leading to impact. TFF investees monitor:

  • Organizational Outcomes using the Impact Capacity Assessment Tool (iCAT) and/or progress against goals in capacity building plans. Investees originally used the Organizational Management Capacity Assessment Tool (OMET) before it was discontinued.[6]
  • Social and Emotional Learning implementation and/or students outcomes using surveys and other measurement instruments (descriptions of each investee’s measures can be found in the Investee Journeys and Outcomes and the Appendix sections of this case study.)

TFF’s methods of tracking investee outcomes shifted over time–some in response to investee needs, others based on extenuating circumstances. For example, the organizational outcomes monitoring tool originally utilized by the Foundation was discontinued and had to be replaced. Along with staff focus groups, TFF uses the organizational outcomes data to identify investee strengths and areas in need of capacity building support.

Though TFF prioritizes outcomes, by design, student social and emotional competency growth and other indicators of change, such as improved school climate and increased graduation rates, cannot be causally attributed to the Foundation’s investments. In order to make causal claims (i.e., we did X which caused Y to happen) within complex environments with many different moving parts, an experimental design study is necessary. TFF never intended to commission an experimental design study both due to cost and complexity and because it was not the Foundation’s intention to be able to make causal claims at the outset of the strategy, but rather invest in interventions and activities with existing evidence of effectiveness.

Studies with an experimental design control for all other variables and compare outcomes from one group to a very similar group who did not participate in the intervention in order to provide “proof” that outcomes can be directly attributed to said intervention.

1 Hunter’s book is a companion publication to Leap of Reason by Mario Morino. Morino is co-founder and chairman of Venture Philanthropy Partners, one of the oldest venture philanthropy funds in the U.S, and chairman of the Morino Institute, a nonprofit focused on technology for social change. Morino and Hunter are noted leaders in the ongoing movement in the social sector to focus on capacity building and managing performance to achieve measurable outcomes.

2 Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition, 2020 State of the Child in Bridgeport; Bridgeport Demographics African American: 40.6%; Asian 2.3%; Hispanic 45.9%; White 8.4; Multiracial: 2.9%

3 Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition, 2013 State of the Child in Bridgeport

4 The new gilded age: Income inequality in the U.S. by state, metropolitan area, and county. Economic Policy Institute

5 Evaluating Program Impact, Rockefeller Brothers Fund

6 The Organizational Management Capacity Assessment Tool (OMET) is a tool developed by David Hunter, which external evaluators can use to assess the organizational capacity of an institution over time. The Impact Capacity Assessment Tool (iCAT) is a self-assessment developed by Peter York / Algorhythm, which collects data from multiple stakeholders to assess the effectiveness of an organization over time.