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?


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