Supporting Capacity: Discussion Guide for Thoughtful Funder Reflection

These questions pertain to GrantCraft's guide, Supporting Grantee Capacity: Strengthening Effectiveness Together. Read the guide independently. Then, together with your team, dive into the below questions. We've included some specifically for nonprofit practitioners, too.

Exploring Investment Approaches to Capacity Building

  • Does your foundation give dedicated capacitybuilding grants? Embed capacity building across grantmaking? Or both?
  • What led to your foundation’s approach? Is that approach formalized or informal?
  • Do you consider general operating funding a form of capacity-building support for grantees? Is there consensus across your foundation?
  • How does your foundation use consultants or technical assistance providers to support grantee capacity building?
  • How can you find out if peer learning would be useful to your grantees, versus them just being willing to participate because you ask them to?
  • What other investments do you and your foundation colleagues consider to be supportive of grantee capacity building? 
  • For nonprofit practitioners: What types of foundation investments have been most helpful in supporting your capacity growth? How might you communicate that to other funders?

Lenses to Focus and Inform Grantmaking

  • Do I lay the groundwork to candidly and frankly engage with grantees?
  • How do I know if grantees are willing and able to focus on the grant scope we are negotiating?
  • Do I understand how context might impact implementation of grants that I make?
  • Am I clear on what institutional culture change needs to happen to make my grantmaking investments successful?
  • Are we (grantee and I) clear on our roles and the goals of grant-funded endeavors?
  • Are control issues between grantees and me getting in the way of the success of the grants I make?
  • Am I better at looking through some of these lenses than others? Why is that?
  • For nonprofit practitioners: which lenses would you have funders prioritize in their thinking? How has funder attention to the lenses described helped you? Or where has lack of attention to these lenses limited the success of your foundation-funded efforts? How can you help funders to look through these lenses?

Knowing Your Own Capacity

  • What type(s) of capacity building has your foundation already engaged in?
  • Why does or why might your foundation support capacity building? Does its current practice reflect what it wants to accomplish?
  • Who is driving the capacity-building agenda internally within your foundation? What voices are the loudest?
  • If you were to leave tomorrow, would your foundation’s capacity for capacity building suddenly be lost? If so, what can you do to embed that knowledge or ethos?
  • How can you build staff and board knowledge on capacity building at your foundation? What type of capacity-building expertise do you have that can be tapped internally?
  • How can staff at your foundation manage the extra time and deeper focus capacity building can take, given available resources? What can (and should) you do, and what are the limitations?
  • For nonprofit practitioners: where are capacities strongest among the funders you work with on capacity building? The least strong? What suggestions would you have for how funders can strengthen their capacity for supporting grantee capacity building?

Acknowledging Power Dynamics

  • What challenging power dynamics have you experienced with grantees when undertaking capacity building? How did you contribute to that dynamic? What did you learn or do you now do differently?
  • What boundaries do you set around who is part of capacity-building conversations with grantees? Around who gets access to information collected about their capacity, including products from grants, like organizational assessments?
  • Where on the “opt in” spectrum do you think you and your foundation fall? Do you always let grantees decide whether they want to undertake capacity building? Never? Or something in between?
  • Can you think of a time when you made a casual remark to a grantee where the grantee acted on what you said?
  • When, if ever, do you use “hard power” (i.e., decided yes or no) in your grantmaking? If you do, in which situations?
  • Have you experienced grantees that fear your foundation is being too intrusive or controlling? Is trying to homogenize, Americanize, or NGO-ize them? What have you heard specifically?
  • When have you tried to be an expert at something that perhaps you might not be?
  • For nonprofit practitioners: what capacitybuilding power dynamics have you experienced with funders? Which have been most problematic? Any that a funder has navigated well?

Assessing Impact: The Holy Grail

  • What is your foundation’s capacity-building theory of change? Is it different for different grantmaking portfolios? For different foundation staff?
  • What’s one creative way you could assess grantee capacity building better?
  • Is your application and reporting process your primary capacity-building assessment instrument? Is it striking the right balance of providing information that you use versus not being too burdensome on grantees?
  • What are the ways you could engage grantees more in capacity-building assessment, from design to reporting out results? How could you make capacitybuilding assessment more of a learning experience for grantees?
  • Can you think of one or two stories that inspire you to invest in capacity building? What is it about them that tells you your foundation made a difference?
  • For nonprofit practitioners: What’s your capacity-building theory of change? What approach to capacity-building assessment do you think would yield the most useful information to your organization?