Lessons from the Street: Capacity Building and Replication
5. Consequent Knowledge, Skills, Action and Outcomes
The technical assistance inputs discussed in Chapter 4 were directed by the Foundation at these areas of local grassroots capacity building need:
We designed this menu over time, based on what nonprofit organizations told the Foundation they needed. Reports by other technical assisters have acknowledged the need for most of these areas, although not necessarily for evaluation and especially not for communications.1
Based on the model of Figure 2 in Chapter 3, we illustrate in Chapter 5 how improvements in a grassroots organizationís knowledge, skills, action, and measurable outcomes are possible, as a result of technical assistance and training. We note problems and lessons along the way.
Across the years of our capacity building technical assistance, the Foundationís funders were not able to set aside significant resources for formal evaluation. However, two modestly funded assessments by outside evaluators were commissioned by the Foundation.2In the case of communications capacity building, we also have "before" and "after" videos that show improvements in the communications skills of local organization staff who received training from the Foundation in how to present well on television.3 In addition, participants in most Foundation group workshops rated sessions.4 Last, process evaluation observations by Foundation staff and consultants were made on all cohorts that received technical assistance over the ten years covered by this report. The illustrations and discussions of successes and setbacks in Chapter 5 draw on these "triangulated" sources of evaluation evidence, as do the lessons on capacity building found in Chapter 6.
Foundation technical assisters reviewed materials from nonprofit groups that defined board roles and responsibilities, observed board meetings, and assessed the degree of board involvement of the executive director and of individual board members. For many groups, staff and trustees were equally unclear about board roles and responsibilities. One change often recommended was to increase board diversity, in terms of skills and ethnicity. For example, attorneys formed the majority of the board of one group we assisted. Board votes often were postponed because of concern over legal implications by one trustee or another. The board was ineffective. After revising the by-laws and electing a new executive committee, the agency brought on more nonlawyers, and some of the earlier deadlocks were resolved.
The Foundation provided board members with materials from the National certer for Nonprofit Boards that explained fiduciary and policymaking roles and responsibilities of board members. When assistance was given to boards, we appeared successful in changing board understanding of its fiduciary and policymaking roles, encouraging changes in board composition, and impressing on trustees the need for financial support. These were proximate outcomes. However, in most cases, ultimate measurable outcomes remained uncertain at the time we completed assistance, usually after twelve or eighteen months. In many cases, it still was not clear whether board members were merely giving lip service or were prepared to act. For example, one chair had insufficient time for his duties, but would not alter his role. Out of frustration, the executive director threatened to resign. We persuaded her that she would be of more value to the organization if she stayed -- and tried to reshape the board slowly over time.
For example, one popular Foundation roleplaying workshop helped nonprofit organizations practice presentations to funders. All participants were nonprofit organization staff, but some played the role of grantmakers. The rest made their cases. The grantmaking role players had $2 in quarters to distribute. The first round of the exercise ended with one presenter getting most of the quarters, two others getting some quarters and the rest getting none. The exercise helped teach participants how difficult funding decisions could be with scarce resources. It also pointed to the importance of developing quality presentations that led to financial support.
Many nonprofit organizations habitually apply to the same funding sources and are unfamiliar with other funding options available to them. Foundation assistance articulated such options. For example, several organizations carried out capital campaigns. One executive director was encouraged to take greater risks in applying for funds. She submitted proposals to several sources and delivered her message effectively enough to secure grants from all of the new funders who received applications. Her boldest move was to develop a collaborative grant request that involved working with an established organization to provide services and training to clients in Russia. The proposal was funded. She attributes her fundraising success to the skill development she garnered from Foundation fundraising workshops.
As a result of Foundation advice, another nonprofit organization hired a professional to help with grant writing. The organization then submitted more proposals than in any previous year. Foundation assisters met with the new hire and the executive director monthly to plan short-term and long-term fundraising strategies. The executive director and development professional were sent to a fund-raising event in Boston to generate ideas about conducting fundraisers. The organization succeeded in raising more money in the year of assistance than in any of the previous five years.
Basic to this success, and to similar success with other nonprofit organizations, was the Foundationís insistence on a balanced portfolio -- including but not limited to individual donations, corporate grants, foundation grants and public sector grants. Each source has its costs and benefits, and the optimal strategy, we taught local groups, is not to become trapped by an overreliance on any one.
Because all funders require some demonstration of ability to manage funds, each of the agencies had some procedures in place. Foundation technical assisters helped to make their systems operate more efficiently, and helped the executive directors provide adequate financial reports to boards of directors.
All of the organizations we assisted underwent annual audits. The most common fiscal problem was when the board of directors did not properly exercise its financial oversight responsibilities. Such boards usually had weak committees responsible for financial oversight. The Foundation sought to strengthen those committees. Groups with fiscal management difficulties were especially likely to encounter multiple capacity building problems -- for example, with boards, fundraising and staffing -- and so we sought to work through the problem linkages and common origins with such organizations.
In several cases, the Foundation examined accounting software that was in use by the organization and made recommendations for improving the system. For example, one group had software that could only be used on one computer and was not transferable to other computers on site. In response to the Foundationís recommendations, this organization hired a part-time accountant who consulted with the Foundationís chief financial officer to develop a system that worked more efficiently.
Perhaps our clearest financial management success was with an organization in trouble with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for not having paid payroll taxes for several years. The Foundationís chief financial officer secured power-of-attorney and interceded on behalf of the organization in negotiating with the IRS for payment of back taxes. He also convinced the organization to hire a part-time accountant to assist with managing finances. These are proximate outcomes. The ultimate measure of success -- still unrealized -- will be when the organization can, for example, utilize its improved standing with the IRS and its new accountant to attract more grants, improve staff morale, bring on trustees with more confidence in the organization and motivate those trustees to raise new funds.
Organizational Management and Evaluation
The accountability workshop was popular with participants. The reasons for success were that:
Other areas of organizational management assistance proved more challenging. For example, as discussed in Chapter 4, grassroots nonprofit executives typically did not understand the distinction among foundation inputs; consequent local organization improvements in knowledge, skills and action (proximate outcomes); and consequent measurable outcomes. This we saw as a problem in organizational management. Many local staff thought the end consisted of improvements in knowledge, skills and action. While such changes are crucial for evaluators to document, evaluators look for consequent measurable outcomes -- like more money actually raised in the case of fundraising. If nonprofit executive staff are implementing programs with different ends in mind than evaluators, the resulting evaluations may disappoint the organizations being evaluated, and their funders. Program staff and evaluators need to be on the same wavelength. Our workshops on input-outcome evaluation thinking and its relation to management by objective usually received high ratings.5 But we concluded that these lessons should have been repeated, in group and one-on-one settings.
Another illustrative organizational issue we faced was excessive control of organizations by the larger organizations in which they were located. For example, over the years, we experienced at least three instances where youth serving organizations were stymied by the economic development organizations in which they were components. In one case, the smaller, youth serving component had a number of problems, but also many successes and considerable promise. The Foundation provided needed proposal writing assistance, so the organizational component could continue after support by an initial funder ended. However, the overall economic development organization did not support continuation (for reasons that never were shared with us), so the initiative shut down. In the second, somewhat similar case, the highly structured economic development staff of the host organization did not feel comfortable with the unstructured style of the youth development program staff. In the third case, the youth program performed well, but the overall nonprofit economic development organization was poorly managed. In spite of Foundation efforts to improve management, the economic development organization closed down, causing the youth component to close down as well. Technical assistance funds ran out, and the Foundation was unsuccessful in an attempt to help the youth group incorporate separately.
An organizational lesson here, therefore, is caution against selecting organizations that are components of larger organizations, with missions that are not completely in sync and staffs that may possess different styles and skills. In our experience, such dysfunction is especially possible in marriages between economic development and youth development nonprofits. The former often have the financial resources to begin youth development components, which then appeal to youth in unstructured ways that may be inconsistent with the more structured, business-like style possessed by many economic development staff. However, with careful communication and a cooperative overall director, such partnerships are not impossible, as we found in New York in a successful youth and community initiative with the Mid-Bronx Desperados Community Housing Corporation.
A final illustration of the organizational management issues we faced was the almost universal need for more modern computers and associated software, Internet access and training. Good nonprofit managers need information; tools to organize and help time-manage their usually extended, stressful and often chaotic day; improved filing systems to keep track of documents, especially given inadequate numbers of well-trained support staff; and quick ways to communicate with board members. None of the grants used to finance the Foundationís capacity building work had sufficient funds to address these hardware, software and training needs. In Chapter 4, we have proposed that grants for these purposes be included in all future capacity building initiatives.
A good illustration of executive staff development was Foundation assistance with organization founders who recognized the need to delegate more. For example, one group was founded by a person with the talent, courage and tenacity to create an extraordinary oasis in the middle of an inner-city ghetto. As required by the groupís by-laws, a majority of the board was composed of community residents. The requirement led to recruitment of trustees who meant well but who were otherwise limited in their contribution to the agency, resulting in the reinforcement of the executive directorís already considerable authority. Our technical assistance consisted of series of "coaching" sessions with the executive director, convincing her of the necessity of building a stronger board as the only way to achieve her stated objectives. The executive director eventually embraced this approach. Over many months, improvements in the board gradually were made. New members were added to both the community and non-community components of the board. The board went through a Foundation training session on its roles and responsibilities -- and gradually became more involved in the substantive decisions of the agency.
Over the ten years of capacity building technical assistance reported here, most of our staff development was targeted to front line youth workers, the priority of the major funder that financed these investments.
In the Foundationís youth worker training group workshops, the program director for the cohort of sites selected especially sensitive trainers. The trainers made all the difference in the world and were highly valued by participants. As with training in accountability (discussed under Organizational Management, above) the group sessions for youth worker staff development were led by a professional who not only was knowledgeable about the theory of youth development but also had practical field experience. The trainer was able to provide concrete examples of how to use academic information about youth development in youth work practice. Participants experienced an "Ďaha?moment" when the information they were exposed to made sense to them and could be applied immediately.
In one of the outside evaluations of the Foundationís technical assistance, two thirds of the youth workers who we trained and who were interviewed reported actual improvements or expansion in their youth services over a two year period. The specific changes that one or more reported were:6
Illustrations of measurable outcomes which could be considered at least partially associated with youth worker technical assistance included the following:7
Communications and Leadership Development
Few grassroots nonprofits are skilled in media and communications. This is not surprising -- because few can afford a communications director and communications office. Not many grassroots nonprofit executive directors have had the time to think through this part of their organizationís mission. Yet these groups typically undertake advocacy, and it is important to get the word out to organize people. When groups achieve success in their programs, communicating that success can bring recognition, attract new trustees and generate more interest by funders. Increased funding can be used to improve management, financial management and staff development. The funding can finance new computers and a new director for fundraising. Most of these grassroots organizations oppose policies like tax breaks for the rich and prison building for the poor (Chapter 1). They have well thought out alternative policy frameworks that make more sense. Yet they have not been trained to use the media to articulate their frameworks and positions. For the most part, those who support a frame of tax breaks for the rich and prison building for the poor have been trained; as a consequence, the latter have increased the likelihood that their ideas will prevail.
In response, over the last ten years, the Foundation has trained several cohorts of inner-city nonprofit organization executive directors and other senior staff at the Foundationís Communications and Television School. The school runs over four days. The first two days cover how to develop a strategic advocacy campaign that identifies the message, the message senders and the target audiences. Also covered are basics like how to hold a press conference, write a press release, develop a press kit, "pitch" a story, write an op ed, write a letter to the editor and create public service advertising.
Over the remaining two days, the Foundation sets up a television camera and television studio. The camera is operated by a savvy, African-American cameraman off duty from the Washington, DC NBC affiliate. Training is led by the Foundationís director of communications. Each participant must first sit in front of the camera and, in a minute or two, present the mission of her or his organization. Then each must undertake an interview with reporters who act in a friendly and receptive manner. Next, each must undertake a hostile interview on what works and doesnít. Training concludes with groups of participants undergoing press conferences -- with our trainers acting as aggressive and sometimes offensive reporters. Each round of this training is videotaped, replayed and critiqued in front of the other participants.
Grassroots nonprofit participants learn electronic media lessons like these:
An Eisenhower Foundation capacity building media training manual has a more systematic review of such lessons and tips.
Communications and Television School students discuss the mediaís tendency to create conflict and controversy. Television and radio interviewers often seek conflict and opposition because they perceive controversy in terms of ratings and profits. Advocates for programs that work at the grassroots learn how not to respond to loaded questions -- and to promote their views within a framework in which they feel comfortable. Good television can, we teach, promote consensus building.
Video taped clips are shown at the Communications and Television School for how to deal with naysayers on television. For example, one video clip shows a debate on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, on PBS. The debate centered on the Eisenhower Foundationís thirty year update of the Kerner Riot Commission.8 The president of the Foundation debated two naysayers. One accused the report of being obsessed by race. The Foundationís president said no, the report was focused on both poverty and race. Then he quickly "pivoted," and moved on to reframe the discussion. The Foundationís president reminded viewers that he helped launch the naysayerís organization years ago -- by providing the naysayer with a start-up grant when the Foundationís president was a federal government appointee. The Foundationís president had "exposed" the naysayer on national television for taking federal grants. (The camera caught the naysayerís response.) The Foundationís president suggested that the grant for the fledgling organization of the naysayer was the kind of investment in human capital that we needed in Americaís inner cities. The naysayer then needed to take time to defend himself. That gave him less time to attack the Foundationís president, who therefore had more time to frame his next statements and keep control of the discussion.
We have found that Communications and Television School lessons on televison also apply to talk radio.
Television training is difficult and stressful for most participants. However, again not surprisingly, most grassroots nonprofit principal staff learn quickly over the course of the brief training. Often, progress is dramatic. The increased media acumen enhances leadership skills. At the end of the sessions, many admit that, prior to training, they had little experience in using media as a tool for capacity building and advocacy.
In terms of proximate outcomes, all training is video taped -- we have accumulated many examples of how specific participants perform before and after training.9 Appendix 3 has excerpts from a press conference with several organizations, showing how, after training, they fended off and reframed media questions. Appendix 4 contains excerpts from a written evaluation of one television trainee, who followed up a Foundation group workshop with a video taped one-on-one training session. In addition, here is feedback by some of the people who have received television training, from the evaluation forms they submitted after the workshops:
However, funds have not been available to follow up with most nonprofit groups after the training. The need is to fully develop a strategic communications plan for each nonprofit organization, implement it over two or three years and measure for concrete, ultimate outcomes. One such outcome might be more funds received as a result of publicity. Another might be success in changing local television news to include more stories on what works and less stories about violence and demonized minority youth.
At the time of the present reportís publication, we have begun such follow-up. Foundation assisters are creating long term strategic communications plans with grassroots groups that received initial Communications and Television School training, performed well and have intense interest in media as capacity building. The strategic communications plans are individualized, but a commonality will be the creation of a web site at each organization that is linked into the Foundationís emerging "master" site, designed as an archive documenting what does and does not work, in terms of substantive programs and capacity building assistance. The three local groups will learn to use the "master" site and apply its information to local communications campaigns. More importantly, each grassroots organizationís web site will be used as a local organizing tool to bring together people and institutions in their cities for common causes.
Multiple Areas of Assistance
The Foundation concurred with trainees. However, some funders limited work to only some technical assistance areas. Others had fewer content limitations, but in all cases funding was limited. Hence, Foundation staff and financial resource limitations were very real. We did the best we could under existing constraints. For over sixty organizations assisted during the end of the ten year period of our report, Table 2 identifies how we sought multiple solutions whenever feasible.
The evaluation of our work consistently found that the co-targeting of resources from different funders to better allow the Foundation to provide assistance in multiple areas was one of the most highly rated features of our work in the minds of trainees. Professor Lisbeth Schorr at the Harvard School of Public Health has concluded that one key to substantive programmatic success of nonprofit organizations is their ability to provide "multiple solutions to multiple problems," overcoming the categorical thinking of many funders.10 In our ten years of capacity building experience, the need for multiple solutions to multiple capacity building problems proved equally imperative.
One of the two independent evaluations reached this conclusion:11
Similarly, the other independent evaluation concluded:12Based on the information collected as part of the evaluation, the technical assistance program was found to have a positive impact on the grantee organizations and their staff. In general, the grantee organizations found the technical assistance program to be helpful and agreed that, overall, the Eisenhower Foundation met their expectations. However, from the technical assistance program manager and providers?perspective, the program would not be as effective unless the grantee organization fulfilled their part of the technical assistance program agreements, and that is to transfer the knowledge and skills they acquired to the rest of their organizations, and to implement the technical assistance.
The overall quality of the training and technical assistance provided to the participants was very good and addressed the most significant needs of these organizations. The participants rated both the technical assistance and the workshops as above the norm and very useful in helping them better serve the youths involved in their programs.
Table 2: Eisenhower Foundation Technical Assistance
1 Funding primarily from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.