Can You Measure the Impact of Capacity Building for Nonprofits? | Beth's Blog

Can You Measure the Impact of Capacity Building for Nonprofits?

Capacity, Research Studies

Capacity building is about improving organizational (or network) effectiveness.  Capacity building includes both money (grants), consultants/technical assistance, peer learning/communities of practice, and collaboration.  According to the survey of funders about capacity building completed by GrantCraft, the top five areas of capacity building that funders most likely support include: leadership, strategic planning, financial management, governance, and fundraising.   Other areas include: communications, executive transition, evaluation/learning, networking/convening, and professional development.

As a trainer and facilitator, the work I do with organizations and networks, often on behalf of a foundation for its grantees, is capacity building.   But, like anything else, to improve results, you need to measure it.      My colleague, Teresa Crawford,  Executive Director
at Social Sector Accelerator, a member of the Counterpart International Network, has been doing research on this topic:

Is it possible to effectively measure the impact such “capacity building” services have? Do these services truly lead to a “Capacity Dividend” – accelerating nonprofits’ ability to pursue their purpose? If so, what approaches lead to the greatest impact and under what conditions? 

To answer the questions, they conducted a landscape analysis of existing research on the impacts of capacity building on organizational strength and social impact.  They reviewed research from nearly 60 academic, think-tank, and thought leader sources published after 1990 and interviewed leading practitioners from both grant-makers and capacity building service providers.  They also facilitated discussion with others funders that invest in capacity building.

What they discovered is that the existing research, both anecdotally and qualitatively, largely supports the notion that organizations that receive capacity building support can achieve greater social impact.   Unfortunately, on the whole, the review unearthed a lack of robust empirical research linking capacity building support with improvements in measures of organizational effectiveness, and even less research linking capacity building with greater social impact.  The field needs stronger evidence that investments in capacity building – instead of or in addition to – other forms of support pays off.

The landscape analysis suggests that the question is not whether certain types of capacity building are better or worse than others. Rather, the question grant-makers and nonprofits should ask is what kinds of capacity building will achieve the desired outcomes and optimize mission-related impacts.

In the spirit,  the complete Capacity Dividend research is available here:

If you deliver capacity building to nonprofits or you are a nonprofit who has engaged with a capacity builder, how did you measure the results?


8 Responses

  1. Thanks Beth for the recap of our research. It was a fruitful dive into the literature.

    Curious how others are measuring the results of investments in capacity building. We’ve supported thousands of organizations over the last 50 years with both grants and capacity building – we can always do better!

    Definitely check back in the coming weeks as we unpack our theories and test our assumptions about capacity building.

  2. Daniel Oporto says:

    I am a consultant working on capacity building regarding market-based mechanisms in development.

    Capacity building should always translate into concrete actions and decisions, for example:

    a) traceable and verifiable resource allocation (funds, human, material); b) implementation of specific, measurable or verifiable activities (i.e. signed contracts, signed partnerships, KPIs and scorecards, hirings/firings);
    c) others at project cycle and activity level.

  3. Thanks, Beth and Teresa. This is such an important and under-studied topic, and is of great interest to our organization, WAKE. As Beth knows, because she’s a big part of our work, WAKE’s focus is on building the capacity of non-profits to use tech and communications tools to advance women’s rights. We primarily use surveys and interviews to gauge whether the organizations are able to use what they learn in our workshops to do things like save time and money by doing more of their tech/comms work themselves (vs outsourcing), reach their community more efficiently and effectively with awareness campaigns and linking them to services, and to diversify and expand their fundraising. The harder piece to evaluate is the next layer, which is the ultimate success and impact of those actions. Thanks again for shedding light on this topic.

  4. Jerry Fultz says:

    And, once again, marketing – the ability to broadly communicate a value proposition with clarity, passion and purpose – is nowhere on this list. What possible good does it do to invest in any of this stuff if you insist on operating behind a cloak of secrecy? Marketing can be a (the) leading and sustainable capacity builder, but nonprofits ignore it and funders don’t understand it.

    I found this article to be helpful.

  5. Beth says:

    Thank you Jerry for sharing that resource and your comment

  6. Robin Mohr says:

    Yes, thank you Jerry. I actually just submitted a grant LOI to ask a funder we know pretty well for capacity building specifically for marketing assistance, to help us analyze “the way we always do it” and suggest more up-to-date methods and materials. Should hear back before the end of this month. Crossing my fingers…

  7. Trish – thanks for sharing your experience with WAKE. You are definitely on the right track for measuring the .org level impacts. With some tweaking of support to align it with the .orgs purpose you can also get at the contribution the specific capacity building can have to the achievement of that wider purpose.

  8. Beth says:

    I love when I see folks that I’m connected with connect through the blog – great to “close the triangle” with Teresa and Trish

Leave a Reply