Thoughts on an Organizational Strengthening Program Taxonomy

Initial thoughts on a taxonomy of 6 approaches foundations and intermediaries are taking to supporting stronger and more resilient organizations.

How does a foundation or intermediary decide on one of these 6 approaches? Is it based on their past experience? On what they’ve seen others do? On their own spoken or unspoken foundation values or beliefs? On the best fit for their context and grantee partners needs? What do organizations have to say about the impacts of the different approaches?

Choosing a Collaborative Grants Management System

In our last post - Defining a Collaborative Grants Management System, Laura outlined our vision for a “collaborative grants management system”, which would allow our two organizations-- the Social Sector Accelerator and CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation—to collaborate together, with grantees, and with the sector as a whole.  In this post she describes the four-step process for how we moved from that vision to a decision as to which vendor would work best for us.

Defining a Collaborative Grants Management System

In our post, Unlocking Investment in the Social Sector, we described the research we conducted with CIVICUS to better understand the infrastructure needed to unlock investment in the social sector. But we’re not just researching and strategizing. we’re working together to define and implement a grants management process and platform that will increase the amount of resources flowing to social sector organizations in the Global South. Who better to work with to support this work then Laura Quinn, the founding Director of Idealware. Idealware publishes the industry bible on grants management systems – Consumers Guide to Grant Management Systems. This post, written by Laura, describes the process we’ve undertaken together with the CIVICUS team.

Saving mangroves, one of the world’s most carbon rich habitats, requires evidence and market driven solutions

Saving mangroves, one of the world’s most carbon rich habitats, requires evidence and market driven solutions

We launched the Social Sector Accelerator to seek out, design, and test market-driven and evidence-based solutions to the world’s most pressing social and environmental challenges. We’re excited to announce the launch of our Blue Forests Initiative, an effort to combine advances in behavioral science, innovative finance, and the conservation of one of the world’s most important habitats: mangroves. 

Do Capacity Building Programs Help Nonprofits Achieve Better Results?

What is the evidence base available on the impacts of capacity building on organizations? We believe that any measurement of the impact of investment in strong organizations should ultimately come back to demonstrating the additional impact organizations are able to achieve after receiving this kind of support. In all our research, we found 3 challenges to making sense of the evidence:

  1. Capacity Building Divorced from Results
  2. The Forgotten Roots of Capacity Development in the Movement for Ownership and Empowerment
  3. Tools, Tools, and more Tools

Unlocking the Right Investment in the Social Sector

What did we learn in our review of 50 different donors and platforms undertaking ‘partner qualification’ – the process by which they determine whether a nonprofit makes a sound partner.  Through the review process, we culled several lessons about current the practice of qualifying organizations for funding – and have identified an important gap that needs filling

How will we know what kinds of investment in organizational strengthening lead to increased mission impact?

What might a 'Learning Agenda' look like for an organizational strengthening program?

All of this points to the importance of evidence and data, but what should a learning agenda look like? The following questions emerged from our discussions:

  • How might foundations structure organizational strengthening initiatives to return the greatest results?
  • What is possible with a grantee-centered approach with a focus on organizational strengthening that focuses on the abilities needed to achieve a clearly defined mission?
  • What might change if foundations place organizational strengthening in the context of the larger system the groups are trying to change/effect/work within? Are there different strengths to be built for different organizations within the system? ? 
  • How might we measure the impact of organizational strengthening support on organizations and their ability to achieve their missions? What do we measure?
  • How might we determine “predictive indicators of success” – a small number of predictive indicators that allow quick analysis of whether organizations need additional strengthening to be effective?

Constructing an Impactful Organizational Strengthening Program

Over the past few years, foundations of all types have embraced “capacity building” for their grantees as a core part of their strategy for generating social impact. Their strategies include providing a range of supports for their grantee partners from add-ons to existing program grants to larger scale organizational strengthening programs. What these foundations all have in common is a belief in something we call a “capacity dividend”: the notion that investments in their grantee partners’ capacity offers “returns” in the form of greater efficiency, effectiveness, and ultimately greater social impact.

But how does this understanding of the power of ‘capacity building’ change for foundations that have an outsized influence in their community? Does being the primary funder in a particular domain or location come with special responsibilities? Should this dynamic change a foundation’s investment strategy?

Building a Capacity Building Program with a Purpose

What does a week together with foundation and partner staff look like as we explore the challenges and opportunities to building strong organizations that can weather changes in their operating environment. In what ways can increased capacities and capabilities deliver improved health outcomes in their communities? What key capacities do they need to be more resilient? How can they improve their impact through increased use of data and experimentation?