At TCC Group, we work closely with our clients and partners to emphasize the essential nature of collaboration in capacity building and nonprofit effectiveness. Capacity building investments can only “stick” when the ability to collaborate is elevated in any organizational change effort. A collaborative approach to capacity building provides support well beyond funding, while establishing vital relationships that will serve those involved long past the life of a capacity building grant.
For years, many in the nonprofit realm have advocated for increases in unrestricted funding, general operating support, and/or dedicated capacity building funds. But when it comes to reaping the full benefits of capacity building dollars, funding is not always enough.
Funders who support nonprofit capacity building are increasingly acknowledging the importance of the structural supports and non-financial resources that help nonprofits leverage capacity building dollars into sustainable, transformative change. This has often manifested itself in the form of foundations and funder collaboratives assuming the role of conveners, technical assistance providers, or brokers of additional support.
Funders looking to make this broader type of commitment have also explored collaborating with local consultants as a powerful way to ensure the extended life – and enhanced ROI – of capacity building investments. Local consultants play a critical role in the development of any collaborative capacity building ecosystem. These local experts are uniquely positioned to provide the skills, guidance, and coaching that nonprofit leaders need to effectively make and sustain change in their organizations. In particular, partnering with local consultants has three key benefits:
- Long-term potential: No matter what type of capacity building work a nonprofit is doing, capacity building is a long-term investment in an organization. Having access to expert guidance through a locally-based consultant can make all the difference for an organization trying to implement its capacity building plan. Often, capacity building represents a new or increased area of investment for an organization, and leveraging external resources such as local consultants will set it up for greater success.
- Local knowledge: Local consultants based in a community have a unique familiarity with the local nonprofit, governmental, and funding landscapes that can help organizations effectively engage their broader ecosystems.
- Disrupting the power dynamic: Consultants play a key role as a conduit between foundations and nonprofits, which can help subvert the typical funder/grantee power dynamic. Forging a relationship with a local consultant often offers nonprofits the chance to be honest with the challenges they are facing in their capacity building work, and effectively target their priority areas.
As key ecosystem actors, funders often have the resources and convening power to connect nonprofits with expert consultants in their communities. Additionally, they can equip local consultants with capacity assessment tools and other resources to help build the capacity of the “supply side” of any capacity building effort in their communities. This field-building work amongst the consultants themselves is a critical contribution to the sustainability of capacity building, as well as to the social sector landscape of the communities in which funders operate.
Collaborating with local consultants in any capacity building initiative adds depth and dimension to a funder’s capacity building work, and can challenge all stakeholders to build their collaborative muscle. Successful collaborative partnership requires augmenting certain skills and abilities, on the parts of nonprofits, funders, and consultants equally. Building relationships and exercising the skills of collaboration through a capacity building initiative paves the way for additional successful collaboration in the future.
Beginning in 2016, TCC Group partnered with the Healthcare Georgia Foundation on a collaborative capacity building initiative that connected nonprofits to local consultants for high-impact capacity building work. Andrea Kellum, Program Officer at Healthcare Georgia Foundation, and Lizann Roberts, of Lizann Roberts Consulting, based in Savannah, GA, share some tips for those interested in exploring a collaborative capacity building project:
- Tap into existing structures and networks. Kicking off a collaborative capacity building initiative with an ecosystem mapping exercise can help participants identify and leverage existing community structures and relationships.
- Reduce “brokering” pain for nonprofits looking to work with local consultants. Finding the right consultant who most comfortably fit a nonprofit’s needs, management style, and culture is a difficult and time-consuming task for any stretched nonprofit leader. Healthcare Georgia Foundation and TCC Group conducted a landscape scan of available capacity building consultants in the region, and the Foundation compiled a directory of consultants available to nonprofits. This directory freed up leaders’ time to focus on other more urgent capacity building issues, and helped ensure a better fit between the nonprofits and their local consultants.
- Confront – don’t avoid – the internal politics. Addressing concerns about territoriality and competition among collaborators or community partners can help establish trust amongst partners; this occurs most readily when ample opportunities are provided for in-person convenings and “face time” connecting for all partners.
Author’s Note: We are indebted to Andrea Kellum of the Healthcare Georgia Foundation, and Lizann Roberts of Lizann Roberts Consulting, for sharing their experience and insight from Healthcare Georgia Foundation’s EmpowerHealth program with us at the Alliance for Nonprofit Management’s 2017 Annual Capacity Builders Conference. Content from TCC Group’s session “Funding is Not Enough: Building the Supply Side of the Capacity Building Ecosystem” informed this article.
The Collaboration Series
With collaborative networks and initiatives springing up everywhere, collaboration is a hot topic for the sector. Yet, as collaborative efforts become more widespread, more capacity building providers, funders, and nonprofits are feeling the growing pains, and asking, “What does it take to collaborate effectively?” In this series, we examine different angles on collaboration in nonprofit effectiveness. This piece is Part I of the Collaboration Series.