"Foundational" Capacity Building

By Adina Fudym, b.world Product Management & Design


When exploring ideas for designing and creating a new category of social impact software, our focus was on helping the “small teams” build organizational capacity, increase knowledge, and improve collaboration through technology. Our hypothesis was:

If technology can help build capacity, you can spend more time doing what you love and do best: doing good.”

Not only did we want to help smaller, less-resourced nonprofits, but we hypothesized that our primary target audience would be the millions of small, grassroots nonprofits around the globe doing important work in communities and local ecosystems; our research indicated that limited budget and time to onboard employees to new tools were software adoption barriers for these organizations, who often opt to stick to tools they know like Microsoft Excel and Google's Workspace.


With this knowledge in mind, we sought to provide an affordable, self-service program management and design tool for small nonprofits that would help them build capacity, knowledge, and collaboration by seamlessly connecting their end-to-end impact process and by offering embedded guidance to assist with tasks like project and indicator creation. As we launched with a carefully selected group of pilot customers, we quickly were faced with some realities that made us take a step back:

  • b.world supports a regimented approach to social impact project design, which we believe is required to create and execute the most effective social impact projects. However, organizations which are not aligned to this approach (and this is ok!) can feel overwhelmed by the platform's structure.

  • Embedded guidance may not be enough to teach complex concepts like theory of change design and choosing the correct parameters for an indicator; even organizations that are on-board with promoting a regimented approach to program design find great value in high-touch collaboration and personal coaching as well!

  • Affordable often means free. Even though b.world is affordable compared to enterprise-grade software that can cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement, small nonprofits have limited funds and are not willing to shell out money they haven’t budgeted for (and again, this is ok!).

  • Organizations don’t work alone, and b.world must cater to organizational partnerships.

As we exposed more and different types of organizations to b.world, one type of organization was consistently interested and saw the value in b.world: foundations. Many forward-thinking foundations have been increasingly focused on capacity building—or improving effectiveness—in partnership with their grantees, which aligns to b.world’s core goal and purpose.


In a 2014 study conducted by GrantCraft, which included over 300 philanthropy and nonprofit professionals, over 55% of foundations indicated that capacity building was very important to their foundation’s mission.(1) One approach to capacity building is a cohort program, or a collaborative model whereby a foundation convenes groups of grantees—training and guiding them in nonprofit leadership, program design, monitoring & evaluation (M&E) best practices and more, with the goal of not just “feeding them” but teaching them “how to fish.”


Essentially, foundations who have adopted the cohort model can be viewed as a catalyst for engaging nonprofits in using new social impact software like b.world because they view it as a key ingredient in their curriculum and a conduit for learning. Time is allotted for grantees to engage with b.world as part of their participation in the program and, without the foundations’ partnership, many of those nonprofits likely would have missed or not had the time to explore b.world for the reasons discussed above. In this capacity-focused cohort model, neither the nonprofits nor the foundations view b.world as “another new thing we don’t have time to learn,” but as an essential, budgeted resource which supports the foundations’ mission to help their nonprofit partners unlock capacity and promote shared learnings internally, and with and among their nonprofit grantee cohort participants.

Enabling and fostering this community of learning and partnership among cohort participants (grantees and partner organizations) and, perhaps more importantly, between funders and grantees, eliminates an historic power dynamic that caused funders’ historically output- and numbers-focused approach to program evaluation—often discordant with grantees’—to reign supreme. This power imbalance also made grantees reticent to share results that may have been interpreted as program failures for fear of marring their reputation and decreasing their chance of getting future funding. Not only did this—and, in some cases, does this still—limit the sector’s ability to craft projects likely to succeed by inhibiting learning about what works versus what doesn’t, but it also stymied cause-level capacity building by decreasing the chance of organizations with similar goals from collaborating with each other.(2) In their 2020 annual report, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) posited:


“No one organization has the resources to address the world’s most complex issues alone… When we leverage our voices and resources together, building off the lessons each of us has learned in collaborative spirit, we can achieve brighter and more equitable futures.”(3)

The philanthropic sector is experiencing an inflection point with regards to acknowledging that achieving good and enabling positive change is dependent upon multiple forms of collaboration, taking ego out of the equation, prioritizing equity, and an acute understanding that failure should be seen as a positive learning opportunity: “The hoped-for future… [is] one where continuous learning becomes a core management tool; where foundations, as commentator Van Jones once put it—'stop giving grants and start funding experiments’; where foundations and grantees share data, learning, and knowledge openly and widely; and where constituent feedback about what is needed and what success looks like is central to strategy development and review.” (4)


b.world is the best-positioned social impact tool for bridging the learning and sharing gap between foundations and their grantees by enabling collaboration, supporting partnerships, and promoting learning and sharing via informational transparency throughout the program lifecycle, made possible with b.world's industry-first story telling capabilities. b.world offers the ability for equitable information sharing within a team, to share projects with external partners, and to easily export information for sharing as well. And with improved and more nuanced internal, guest, and cross-team information access capabilities on the horizon, b.world will provide transparency and sharing options that will increase organizations’ requested and desired comfort with expanding user access to the platform. Simply put, the result is increased capacity.


Ready to promote a culture of sharing and learning within your organization and with external stakeholders? Register for a b.world trial here: Register now.



References:

1 - SUPPORTING GRANTEE CAPACITY, GRANTCRAFT 2 - Reimagining Measurement, Monitor Institute 3 - Annual Report 2018-2020, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (geo)- https://www.geofunders.org/resources/annual-report-2018-2020-1341

4 - Reimagining Measurement, Monitor Institute

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