When You’re a Lone Voice for Capacity Building in Your Foundation: Ways to Broaden Your Base of Internal Support

Most of the grantmakers we interviewed believe in capacity building as an important strategy. Yet we know there are many reasons other funders hesitate to engage in capacity-building funding. If you’re among those who recognize the value but feel unsure how to build the needed constituency to support broader-scale implementation at your foundation, consider the following steps suggested by interviewees.

  1. Engage grantees. Some foundations shaped their capacitybuilding strategies with input from grantees via surveys and interviews. The Greater New Orleans Foundation also put together a design team, a cross-disciplinary group of grantees that has met regularly, providing “real live” feedback as the foundation formulated its approach. Listening to what grantees need, asking questions, reading between the lines, engaging them in the design, and then finding ways to continue to seek their input before, during, and after funding builds the trust needed to position a foundation’s efforts for success.
  2. Take the plunge. Capacity building can feel murkier for foundations because the work seems less directly tied to missions. Like so much of what foundations fund — whether it be health, education, youth development, social justice, or other issues — funders will never be able to assign complete definition, parameters, and formulae to capacity building. Don’t wait for the “Eureka!” moment. Getting started takes capacity building out of the theoretical realm so you have applied experience to reflect on as “proof of concept.”
  3. Start with a small experiment with demonstrable outcomes. If this is a first endeavor, cultivate a small project that has the possibility to demonstrate outcomes that show value and builds confidence in your foundation’s ability to make capacity-building investments. If your foundation has undertaken some grantee capacity building before and had a bad experience, figure out how to learn from it. Reflect on that to design the new approach in a way you think will be more constructive. Don’t start with something expensive or complicated if you have to convince board or staff members of the value. Start with something that you can make tangible.
  4. Document the process. At the grant’s completion, ask not just what it accomplished in terms of organizational, programmatic, or field capacity, but how it changed your foundation’s relationship with grantees. Consider the surprises and unintended consequences, where maybe one result was not achieved, but something else unexpected but positive happened.

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by GrantCraft using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Supporting Grantee Capacity.

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