The Learning Hub: A Source of Knowledge, Connection, and Growth
Our Identity as a Learning Organization
For years, the Santa Fe Community Foundation has sought to be a learning organization — a term that has at least two important meanings for our staff.
First, we engage in active listening and learning to respond to rising local needs. Our goal is to be in tune with what’s happening right now in our communities – while also staying focused on larger trends across northern New Mexico.
Second, we prioritize sharing our knowledge and insights so that people across communities and sectors are better equipped to work on solutions together.
One important way we show up as a learning organization is through our Learning Hub, which hosts dozens of classes, workshops, and learning circles each year. It serves as a source of connection, engagement, and growth among nonprofits and other stakeholders in our region.
“Everyone is on a different learning journey, and we can all learn from one another,” notes Annmarie McLaughlin, Senior Director of Community Programs and staff lead for our Learning Hub programming.
The Start of Our Learning Journey
When the Santa Fe Community Foundation was launched in 1981, we focused exclusively on grantmaking — and at a relatively small scale. Operating out of City Hall, our first grants were a modest $500 to ease poverty and advance education.
Today, SFCF is the largest nonprofit funder in the state. In the past four decades, we have awarded over $130 million in grants.
But along the way, we’ve done more than grow our grantmaking capacity; we’ve also expanded the kinds of support we offer to northern New Mexico communities.
In 1996, we launched a technical assistance program for nonprofits — the first iteration of our Learning Hub — and from the start our approach was different. While many foundations offer “Ask An Expert” phone lines or one-on-one support, we rented out spaces around Santa Fe to host live workshops and cohort-based programming.
Our goals were twofold: to help nonprofits do their work more effectively and to build a community of nonprofits that can help — and learn from — one another.
A New Space for Collaboration
In 2011, we moved to our current office at 501 Halona Street — a change that enabled our Learning Hub to support significantly more programs and participants in a well-furnished space conducive to learning.
Soon, our Learning Hub team was welcoming more than 3,000 visitors through our building each year and, with so many conversations taking place within our walls, we began seeing trends.
“We take input from our attendees very seriously and overtime the unique needs of local nonprofits became more and more apparent,” says Annmarie. “We began hearing similar requests for certain types of programming.”
Based on community feedback, the Learning Hub began offering programs designed specifically for executive directors and board members in 2015. Our Executive Director Learning Circle and Board Member Workshop Series continue to provide nonprofit leaders with a diverse toolkit and a keen appreciation of the legal, financial, and tax considerations that govern the local sector.
In 2017, the Learning Hub tackled another important challenge based on insights from its attendees: that of expanding and retaining diverse talent within the New Mexico nonprofit sector. The New Mexico Women of Color Nonprofit Leadership Initiative (NWMOCLI) — which launched its first cohort in 2019 — now includes more than 50 alumnae.
The NMWOCLI leaders work alongside Foundation staff to sustain an active, supportive community to help reduce feelings of isolation and offer opportunities for mentorship, skill development, and reflection on participants’ individual career paths.
Adapting to Emergent Needs
2020 marked the arrival of the pandemic and a need for the Hub to adapt its offerings once again — this time to virtual programming. Initially, the Hub team wasn’t sure how this transition would go. “We had always offered workshops in person so this was a big change for us,” says Yolanda Cruz, Learning Hub Coordinator.
Thankfully, only a small handful of programs had to be canceled. And while some programs didn’t initially seem like prime candidates for Zoom delivery, the appetite of local nonprofit leaders for education and connection — and our own staff’s continued willingness to learn and adapt along the way — allowed many programs to make the transition to virtual learning successful.
Of course, the pandemic impacted nonprofits in profound ways — and the Learning Hub team responded. Programs that guided nonprofits through the process of acquiring PPP loans were particularly popular.
Last year, the Learning Hub shifted its offerings once again in response to the largest wildfire season in New Mexico’s history by working with a range of nonprofits to plan for emergencies, support staff and colleagues, and promote self-care.
A Local Focus
As with everything at the Foundation, our Learning Hub programming is local and context-specific. We’re northern New Mexicans and we know that this part of the world is wonderfully unique from any other. When we design programs and workshops, we work to ensure that they are facilitated by locals who know the landscape, history, and culture of northern New Mexico. “We don’t schedule anything in Santa Fe on fiesta days,” smiles Annmarie.
Many of our region’s nonprofits are rural and often have few staff.
“When we offer training on fundraising and fund development, we recognize that these organizations may not be able to do the same kinds of fundraising as larger organizations based in urban environments, so we strive to offer resources, perspectives, and support that will be valuable to all attendees,” she continues.
For similar reasons, the Foundation offers a sliding scale fee structure for its programming so that small organizations have the same opportunities to learn as larger ones.
For a foundation rooted in community, fostering connection, trust, and a spirit of generosity is key.
In the years to come, the Foundation hopes to expand upon this approach with robust learning opportunities that promote skill-building and leadership development to an even greater audience. “Now that more of our programming is either hybrid (in-person and virtual) or entirely virtual, we’re attracting a larger audience outside our primary service region of Santa Fe, Rio Arriba, Mora, and San Miguel counties. We’ve even had some international attendees to our programs,” says Annmarie.
As the Learning Hub grows, however, Annmarie and Yolanda are clear about where their roots are planted. “We’re the Santa Fe Community Foundation, and northern New Mexico will always be our priority,” says Yolanda.