Friday, February 10, 2006

More Data Supporting Integrated Support

Part of my orientation for my new job at Grantmakers for Effective Organizations has included reading a tremendous amount of literature about organizational effectiveness. For example, I've just finished reading a December 2002 evaluation study conducted for the William Penn Foundation by TCC Group (formerly The Conservation Company).

Among other things, TCC sought to document the state of capacity building and the indicators of improved capacity for nonprofits. Here are highlights that I particularly want to stress:

  • Most technical assistance providers can improve by [italics indicate MY emphasis]:

    • providing more integrated approaches
    • ensuring that consulting services don't leave at the end of the contract
    • effectively evaluating the impact of their own work
    • improving "capacity-specific" assistance (e.g., technology) by taking a more holistic (organization-wide) approach to the intervention for the grantees
    • having both process skills and content knowledge
    • integrating any capacity building intervention into the functioning of the entire organization; and

      last but by far not least:
    • "Specialized" consultants (e.g., technology consultants, etc.) must fully understand the culture and mission of the organization.

  • Effective strategies on the part of funders for supporting capacity building include (among other things):

    • addressing specific and clear capacity building goals for individual nonprofit leaders, nonprofits organizations, and/or a particular community or sector of nonprofits.
    • maintaining a careful balance between insisting that nonprofits need capacity building and allowing nonprofit organizations to draw their own conclusions regarding their c.b. needs.
    • identifying what a nonprofits needs are, rather than impose a specific type of capacity building.

In addition, the study found:

  • The most effective capacity building strategy was determined to be PEER LEARNING. Characteristics of effective peer learning included:

    • convening leaders who share something in common
    • trust building exercises to ensure group members feel comfortable sharing challenges
    • flexibility with respect to agenda, purpose, gaols and objective sof the process
    • participants engaging as both learners and teachers with one another
    • the same group of individuals is engaged with the same facilitator on an ongoing basis
    • plenty of networking and informal sharing

  • Top future capacity needs were (in this order):

    1. resource development / fundraising
    2. board development / governance
    3. marketing
    4. information technology systems
    5. evaluation
    6. strategic planning
    7. organizational assessment
    8. leadership development


Astha said...

Peer Learning being found to be effective makes sense.

I did want to know how leadership development was 8th in the list? I would believe it is a high impact area.

Also, I found it interesting that the study advocates consulting services not leaving immediately after the contract expires. At my last employer, an HR consulting firm, we believed the same- simply because we loved our work and liked to see it through. But mostly it isn't supposed to be 'profitable' from a consulting perspective.

Jillaine Smith said...


I'd need to double-check the original study, but my understanding is that those capacity building needs were defined by the nonprofits. So in their mind, leadership development falls far below resource development. From the perspective of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, it's difficult for a nonprofit exec to think about leadership development when they're worrying about whether or not they're going to make payroll next month.

As for the consulting services not leaving immediately, I may have worded that incompletely. The point trying to be made is that the consulting engagement should leave the client in such a good position that they can sustain the results of the consulting contract without further depending on the consultant.

-- Jillaine