Anchor institutions are enterprises such as universities and hospitals that are rooted in their local communities by mission, invested capital, or relationships to customers, employees, and vendors. As place-based entities that control vast economic, human, intellectual, and institutional resources, anchor institutions have the potential to bring crucial, and measurable, benefits to local children, families, and communities. All told, U.S. hospitals and universities combined spend over $1 trillion a year, have endowments in excess of $500 billion, and employ 8 percent of the labor force.
Many anchor institutions regularly report on community programming and activities. Some go even further and seek to pursue an anchor mission—making a commitment to consciously apply their long-term, place-based economic power, in combination with their human and intellectual resources, to better the long-term welfare of the communities in which they are anchored. Yet, to date, few tools exist to help institutions reflect and assess broadly the long-term impact of their anchor-mission activities, and particularly their impact on low-income communities.
This Democracy Collaborative paper and report proposes a set of indicators to begin to fill this gap. Developed through extensive research and in-depth interviews conducted with more than 75 leaders of anchor institutions, national nonprofit organizations, federal agencies, and community organizations, The Anchor Dashboard identifies twelve critical areas where anchor institutions can play an effective role. Additionally, it develops illustrative indicators that: 1) provide a baseline to assess conditions in the community; and 2) evaluate institutional effort—e.g., dollars spent, procurement shifted, people hired, policies and accountability procedures in place.
Our hope is that The Anchor Dashboard will be a valuable mechanism to help the field more clearly focus on what it means for a hospital or university to pursue an anchor institution mission. By outlining best practices in economic development, community building, education, health, safety, and the environment, along with potential mechanisms to track progress using already available data, we intend that this publication move the conversation from “programs” to “institutional impact”—and, especially, on how anchor institutions can conduct themselves to deliver crucial, and measurable, benefits for low-income children, families, and communities.