Across the state of Oregon, many hundreds of adults work diligently to balance budgets, collaborate across sectors, and maximize limited resources to aid children and families impacted by child abuse and neglect.

The staff of Oregon’s 21 Child Abuse Intervention Centers serve more than 6,500 children each year, working in partnership with child protective services, law enforcement, and other local, regional, and national agencies and groups to provide children and families with counseling, advocacy, medical care, and more. Each center tailors its services and resources to the needs of the geographic community it serves, and each has business needs that are correspondingly dynamic and complex. At the same time, all Centers faced a challenge that’s very common among many community-based providers of human services: how to meet evolving needs and increasing demand, and move beyond a business model dependent on government funding.

In 2012, leading philanthropies Ford Family Foundation and Meyer Memorial Trust asked NFF to work with Oregon’s 21 Centers and with the over-arching Oregon Network of Child Abuse Intervention Centers. The funders, Centers, and Network all felt the landscape shifting and looked to NFF’s expertise in sector analysis, field-building, and systems-level change to help bring the field into a new era of impact and outcomes for Oregon’s children and families.

“We found a fundamental misalignment between the funding and delivery systems that threatened the long-term sustainability of Oregon’s child-abuse intervention system,” said Renee Patey, an NFF director. “We wanted to help these Centers showcase their value in the communities they serve, and challenge the notion that they’re ‘just government agencies’ that don’t need community investment.”

Over four years, NFF’s team worked intensively with leadership from the Centers and Network through individualized consulting and facilitated peer-exchange and field-building. Together, we identified workable ways to move from a business model primarily dependent on government funding to one that is more flexible and resilient, integrating philanthropy, community giving, and insurance (fee-for-service) income. The collaboration helped the Centers prioritize and set expectations, setting staged goals that included increasing and educating staff to accommodate evolving and expanding program delivery; investing in systems and space to support current and expanded operations, and developing a funding model that supports quality programs today and the strength of these critical services into the future.

The transformation involved some fundamental mindset changes. In one pivotal (and emotional) meeting, NFF asked Center leaders and Board members to, “look beyond how they could run their businesses on their government contracts, and ask, ‘Who is ultimately responsible for the care and safety of our children?’” Renee recounts. “The answer came back that it’s not up to a few Center staff to ensure the safety and care of our children. It is the responsibility of our entire community.”

Now those lessons are also resonating across state lines, as NFF has begun similar work in Colorado and opened discussions with The National Children’s Alliance. “We’re not going to change government funding,” says Renee. “But there is a productive way to combine that with foundation, fundraising, and insurance income to support child advocacy work across the country.”