"Capacity building" is a phrase that almost every foundation uses to describe its work in some form or fashion. In fact, there are likely as many nuances to the definition of "capacity building" as there are funders engaging in it. But recently, the Putnam team came across what we find to be an interesting approach to thought about capacity building.
In creating a case study for Blue Shield of California Foundation (BSCF) about its capacity building funding, we found two things that set the Foundation's efforts apart.
First, BSCF undertakes capacity building with a field-wide lens: in this case, the fields of community health centers and domestic violence service providers. The ultimate goal is not to build the capacity of organizations individually, but to do so with an eye toward raising the capacity of the entire field. That's a very broad strategy, and to do it, BSCF had to employ a wide range of capacity building methods (see below).
Second, BSCF created tiers of capacity building support that allow organizations to tap into funds and/or programs that best match their ability and willingness to change. Most of us studied Maslow's Hierarchy of Need at some point - the pyramid shape where a human's most basic needs are at the bottom (shelter, food, water) with other higher-level needs (safety, love, esteem, etc.) building up to the peak of human development - self actualization. BSCF's approach looks at capacity building in a similar way:
- On the most basic level is core operating support: unrestricted funds that grantees can use in any way they deem necessary, from simply keeping the lights on and the doors open to piloting a new and innovative idea to improve performance.
- Next up, leadership development. BSCF created a very comprehensive leadership development program that is open to all grantees who are ready to take that step. (Read more about that here.)
- At the third level is technical assistance. BSCF awards support for technical assistance for grantees that demonstrate a readiness to receive it. It's not available to everyone, but anyone can work up to the technical assistance level - especially if they maximize the use of core support and leadership development. And the technical assistance offerings are tailored to the predominant needs in each of BSCF's fields of focus.
- And finally, at the top of the pyramid is network building. This is a theme that runs throughout all of the Foundation's work. Networking opportunities are present among those receiving core support, are a big part of leadership development, and are often a requirement for those receiving technical assistance.
This is a way to go very deep into the capacity needs of each grantee organization, while all the while maintaining touches on the broader field.
While many foundations do a good job of going wide or going deep with capacity building investments, we're intrigued by BSCF's ability to do both. It's not too much of a stretch to think of grantee organizations much as you would an individual who wants to develop to his or her full potential. Everyone needs the basics to survive, and most of us want the skills to move forward, crave the opportunity to learn, and thrive on the chance to do more and reach farther. It's refreshing to realize that it might be possible to provide that opportunity for everyone - or at least every grantee.
To learn more about BSCF's approach to capacity building, please read our full case study or the executive summary.
Kris Putnam-Walkerly is a nationally recognized philanthropy expert and advisor. You can learn more about how she helps foundations communicate their results by visiting her website. But don't just listen to her, read what her clients have to say in case studies and testimonials!
© 2015 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.