Evaluation of Capacity Building: Lessons from the Field

by Deborah Linnell

Jun 3, 2003
When the final word is written about capacity building within the nonprofit sector in our times, what will the record show? For many practitioners, from whatever role -- consultant or technical assistance provider, grantmaker or researcher -- the most compelling test will be whether organizations and the sector as a whole have become stronger and more effective in their efforts. Will we have improved the quality of life in the communities where we work? Will we have contributed to society's willingness to embrace systems change and sustainable solutions to the issues that nonprofits now tackle year after year? We are likely also to ask what renders these accomplishments genuinely possible -- which characteristics of preparation and processes involved in capacity building, and its evaluation, are most fruitful. And finally, we will challenge ourselves to imagine alternative approaches that best draw on the insights gained. Stories from the field illustrate the reality that capacity building -- and evaluations -- necessarily involve a wide variety of circumstances, approaches and insights. Organizations that offer consulting services and those that make grants, from Florida to Hawaii and New York, have seen the importance of establishing internal evaluation practices as a way to know what works and does not work. As one foundation program director, Chris van Bergeijk of the Hawaii Community Foundation, noted, "It makes no sense to preach organizational effectiveness when we are not walking the talk ourselves." The central lesson: Evaluation of capacity building starts at home.
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