Strengthening Nonprofit: What are we learning?
Honoring the intentions of its donors, the Foellinger Foundation’s grantmaking strategy is to support effective organizations led by adaptive leaders. To emphasize that strategy, the foundation engaged in a comprehensive capacity building initiative with 20 organizations for nearly a decade. The foundation contracted for three external evaluations of the initiative during that period.
The first two evaluations indicated the intentional strategy of the initiative was transformational. It strengthened governance and supported organizational sustainability. In addition, the multi-year grant portfolio funding for capacity building, operations and limited capital improvement projects, coupled with technical assistance and peer-learning sessions supported organizational effectiveness. Increased board engagement was also noted as a result of the initiative.
The final evaluation focused on individual organizations determining the specific impact of the initiative on governance, leadership, programs, and financial sustainability. Overall findings indicated the initiative capacity building work brought about technical changes that positioned the organizations to engage adaptive practices leading to significant change. The evaluation findings demonstrated the initiative funding model supported organizations to think more strategically about mission impact and financial sustainability.
It is clear the initiative accomplished what it set out to do. Foundation consultant Bryan Orander has authored a working paper, Strengthening Nonprofit: What are we Learning?, summarizing the lessons learned from this initiative specifically about capacity building work undertaken by the organizations. The paper provides the theory behind the importance of foundations supporting capacity building.
I always think it is useful to have a practical illustration. Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana has taken these principles to heart and applied them. Cancer Services has graciously agreed to share their report about the cumulative results of capacity building efforts.
In Cancer Services’ report developed by Executive Director Dianne May, please note the significant amount of work in which the organization engaged over five years. The Foellinger Foundation provided consistent operating support during this time, which allowed the organization “breathing space” to engage in capacity building. Both types of support – operating and capacity – encourage organizations to achieve mission impact and financial sustainability.
The Foundation would like to hear from anyone interested in what we have learned about capacity building over a ten-year period. We would welcome the opportunity to connect and share our experience.
About Foellinger Foundation
Foellinger Foundation's vision is to help Allen County residents increase their self-reliance by moving from dependence to independence to helping build community through recognition of their interdependence. Their mission is to provide grants and technical assistance to strengthen organizations that serve children and families -- particularly those with the greatest economic need and the least opportunity. The foundation's strategic intent is to support effective organizations led by adaptive leaders. Learn more at www.foellinger.org.