Capacity building can carry many different meanings, but at its heart, it represents an investment aimed at strengthening effectiveness. This special collection gathers the experience and insights of foundations and nonprofits who have made just this kind of investment. The collection builds on topics explored in the new GrantCraft guide "Supporting Grantee Capacity", including approaches to field-building, working with technical assistance providers and consultants, and assessing the impact of capacity building initiatives.

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Partner-Centered Evaluation Capacity Building: Findings From a Corporate Social Impact Initiative

June 1, 2018

Funders can play a proactive role in helping to fill the gap between funders' expectations and nonprofits' ability to evaluate grant results. Using a partner-centered design, Johnson & Johnson piloted an evaluation capacity-building initiative that supported eight grantees in strengthening their ability to measure and use findings concerning health-related outcomes, by focusing on key evaluation challenges identified by the grantees. Grantees' approaches to capacity building naturally grouped around the areas of evaluation- framework development, data-systems strengthening, and staff training. Through individualized projects, grantees increased their ability to both do and use evaluation. This article describes the design, implementation, and results of a participatory, nonprofit-partner-centered evaluation capacity- building initiative, and shares learnings from the perspectives of both the corporate funder and the nonprofit participants.

More than Grants: How Funders Can Support Grantee Effectiveness

December 14, 2017

Trusts and foundations are increasingly looking to become agents of social change themselves as well as funders of it—asking themselves whether providing more than direct services might make more of a difference. Two common ways that funders do this are through providing support to help organisations develop their capacity, and by using a funder's influence to advocate for change. Here we focus on the former, looking at organisational development support provided by funders from around the world—exploring the types of support given, the evidence for whether it works, and how funders can approach impact measurement.

More than Grants: How Funders Can Use Their Influence for Good

December 14, 2017

Trusts and foundations are increasingly looking to become agents of social change themselves as well as funders of it—asking themselves whether providing more than direct services might make more of a difference. Two common ways that funders do this are through providing support to help organisations develop their capacity, and by using a funder's influence to advocate for change. Here we focus on the latter, looking at influencing practices of funders from around the world—exploring the methods that these take, the evidence for whether it works and how funders can approach impact measurement.

The Missing Link for Maximizing Impact: Foundations Assessing Their Capacity

June 30, 2017

A rapidly changing, global sociopolitical environment requires foundations to be nimble in maximizing opportunities to advance their agendas. At the same time, grantmakers are establishing ever more ambitious goals that often require grantees to function at peak capacity. Why, then, have more foundations not assessed their own institutional capacity? This article discusses an assessment of 54 foundations that participated in taking a new tool, developed for funders by TCC Group, to explore five core capacity areas shown to be central to organizational effectiveness. The Foundation Core Capacity Assessment Tool's findings should not be seen as a report card, but rather a data-driven prompt for reflection and collective learning. While a diverse set of funders participated in this assessment, a larger pool will be needed to make broader statements about sectorwide trends. Nonetheless, the preliminary findings shared in this article do offer an unprecedented first look at how foundations are holistically assessing their institutional capacity as part of their efforts to maximize impact at a critical point in history.

A Community Foundation’s Experience Implementing and Evaluating General Operating Support

June 30, 2017

In 2013, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving began to offer unrestricted general operating support grants in response to grantees' expressed need. The foundation hired Technical Development Corp., a Boston consulting firm, to evaluate the process and implementation. This article shares early indicators of the impact of the new grantmaking approach on both grantees and the foundation. Grantee outcomes include enhanced infrastructure and financial health, continued progress on strategic plan goals, and more creative thinking about programs. Beyond the adoption of a new funding option, the decision led the foundation to modify its overall grantmaking process. The greatest challenge – which appears to be a factor across the sector – has been determining how best to capture the impact of the investment for grantees. Partnering from the outset provided data that helped both the foundation and TDC to assess the benefits of general operating support.

The Metrics Café: A Guide to Bring Funders and Grantees to the Table

April 1, 2017

The Metrics Café from MIT's D-Lab offers a user-friendly, light-hearted take on understanding how metrics can be selected by funders and grantees. The guide likens metrics selection to meal formats, offering case examples and tips on when and how to use the four approaches: Prix Fixe: All grantees report on the same set of standard metrics. À La Carte: Grantees choose from a menu of standard metrics. Made to Order: Funder and grantee work together to come up with a set of metrics. Bring Your Own Lunch: Grantees come with their own metrics.

As You Sow, So Shall You Reap? Evaluating Whether Targeted Capacity Building Improves Nonprofit Financial Growth

November 11, 2016

Foundations' capacity‐building grant programs strive to bolster performance and outcomes for their nonprofit grantees. Yet with few outcome evaluations of such programs, we have limited understanding of whether these capacity‐building efforts achieve their intended result. This study evaluates fifteen years of data for one foundation's capacity‐building grant program to understand whether targeted capacity building for financial management and development contributes to nonprofit financial growth. The authors examine the management–performance link in this context and inform sector leaders who dedicate resources to capacity‐building programs about the outcomes of these efforts.

The Unified Outcomes Project: Evaluation Capacity Building, Communities of Practice, and Evaluation Coaching

March 1, 2016

Increased accountability from foundations has created a culture in which nonprofits, with limited resources and a range of reporting protocols from multiple funders, struggle to meet data-reporting expectations. Responding to this, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation in partnership with the Chicago Tribune launched the Unified Outcomes Project, an 18-month evaluation capacity-building project. The project focused on increasing grantees' capacity to report outcome measures and utilize this evidence for program improvement, while streamlining the number of tools being used to collect data among cohort members. It utilized a model that emphasized communities of practice, evaluation coaching, and collaboration between the foundation and 29 grantees to affect evaluation outcomes across grantee contexts. This article highlights the project's background, activities, and outcomes, and its findings suggest that the majority of participating grantees benefited from their participation – in particular those that received evaluation coaching. This article also discusses obstacles encountered by the grantees and lessons learned.

Catalytic Funding, Partnership, Evaluation, and Advocacy: Innovation Strategies for Community Impact

June 30, 2015

With long-term commitments to concentrated geographic regions, community foundations are in a unique position to highlight problems and stimulate other nonprofit organizations and funders to develop local solutions. Seizing an opportunity to address a growing community concern over cutbacks in youth arts education, the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region undertook an initiative that utilized several innovation strategies in a way that would impact the community and its own work. This article describes how the foundation combined catalytic funding, partnership with grantees, creative use of evaluation, and design of advocacy tools to promote and strengthen youth arts programming. The partnership approach gave rise to very different working relationships with grantees, moving the foundation away from its traditional role to one that led to shared ownership among all the collaborative partners. The initiative included significant use of a variety of evaluation approaches, including needs assessment, evaluation capacity-building, and developmental evaluation. The experience with this innovative project positioned the foundation to pursue future community-impact initiatives even more effectively, and this article concludes with eight insights for others interested in using innovative methods to lead large initiatives designed for broad community impact.

How Can We Help Our Grantees Strengthen Their Capacity for Evaluation?

June 1, 2015

Many of funders are already committed to evaluation as a tool to improve their programs and strategies, and are seeking ways to engage in this learning process in partnership with grantees. One critical aspect of understanding and growing the impact of grantmaking dollars is supporting the capacity of grantees to assess their progress and adopt a learning for improvement mindset. Many nonprofits already collect and analyze data on program performance and hope to develop more comprehensive learning agendas. However, the nonprofit sector continues to wrestle with finding the resources, time and space to take evaluation to its full potential. This Smarter Grantmaking Playbook piece offers grantmakers ideas for how to provide evaluation capacity support more effectively.

Research & Evaluation Capacity

Understanding Philanthropy Consulting: A Tool to Identify the Roles and Capabilities Needed From External Support

March 31, 2015

This article categorizes the distinct roles played by philanthropy consultants and presents a tool and framework for charitable foundations to identify and evaluate the roles and capabilities they need from those consultants. The article categorizes seven capability areas, from strategy setting to talent development, that are core to all foundations. Then, it identifies trigger points within these capability areas that lead foundations to undertake projects that may require outside support. Third, the article maps the capabilities that foundations consider in determining whether and how to engage philanthropy consultants. The resulting tool is scalable and broadly applicable, providing foundation staff and boards with a resource for understanding the range of roles philanthropy consultants play on any given engagement and a mechanism for choosing the correct role and capability set, if required, by their own organization.

How to Implement a Funder-Supported Advocacy Effort and the Integral Role of Policy Consultants

March 31, 2015

There has been growing recognition in the philanthropic field that public-policy engagement and advocacy are critical strategic investments to support social change. For those foundations that are new to advocacy or are contemplating adding this type of work to their portfolio, however, this can be a significant shift in how they do business. Before a foundation engages in this type of work, it is critical that leadership and staff understand the role and potential impact of foundations in the advocacy and policy arenas, the practical considerations of how best to engage in advocacy and policy work, and the role of policy consultants in enhancing a foundation and/or nonprofit grantees' capacity and impact in this arena. This article details the key considerations for preparing and launching a successful advocacy effort, as well as specific tools that can help foundations and their grantees make the best use of an external policy consultant.