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?

Measuring the Capacity Dividend

What can nonprofits and the organizations who support them expect as a return for investing in stronger organizations? Are organizations better able to achieve their missions? Are they more resilient to shocks? Do the people they serve receive better support? The Accelerator dug into the existing research to see what we could learn about the return on investments in organizational strengthening.  The blog post summarizes our findings and shares the knowledgebase of research.

WeWork Creator Awards - what we love and hate about grant competitions

Two weeks ago we submitted an application for the WeWork Creator Awards. A week later we found out we had not advanced to the second round of the competition. Competing in the award competition was a reminder to us of all the things we love and hate about grant competitions like the Creator Awards.

Community Members at the Forefront of Sustainable Coastal Communities

The Social Sector Accelerator works with and through organizations, companies and both local and national government in the Dominican Republic to build resilient coastal communities - improving their ability to weather increasing storm intensity and rising sea levels.

This blog post was previously published on the Counterpart International blog.

Dusting off our HTML skills

I created my first website over 20 years ago.  I worked for a small organization, The Advocacy Project, helping human rights and advocacy organizations around the world make better use of information and information technology in their work. My first websites were based on HTML I would pirate from other sites by copying the source code and tweaking the layout for courageous activists working to end violence against women in war, ensure economic rewards for indigenous groups whose lands were rich with oil, secure rights for persons living with disabilities.

And now we are creating the first site for the Social Sector Accelerator, a start up launched in 2015, to rethink and redesign international development and support for civil society organizations. We are constantly reading, meeting new people and we will share what we are learning, thinking, designing and how we are helping individuals, organizations and networks to achieve their missions. We focus on their purpose and the knowledge, skills and abilities they need to secure that purpose and achieve impact.