Skip to content

5 Things Foundations Say About Their Capacity

Deepti Sood, Associate Director, Evaluation and Learning

Nearly 60 foundations – of all shapes and sizes – recently took the Foundation Core Capacity Assessment Tool (FCCAT), a self-assessment measure for foundations, to better understand their strengths and challenges. Based on the recent summary report, here are five noteworthy things they had to say:

1. Foundations positively appraise their organizational capacity

Overall, foundations rated themselves high on elements of organizational capacity in all core areas: leadership, adaptive, management, technical, and culture. In fact, only one sub-capacity (evaluation) was seen as a “challenge” across the entire group of foundations [1]. This contrasts with scores on TCC Group’s Core Capacity Assessment Tool (CCAT) that assesses capacity in nonprofits, and has much more varied scores. This contrast might be because foundations are not yet well versed in self-assessments or because the field of foundation capacity is still nascent and foundations may not yet have a fully fleshed out viewpoint on their own capacity. Alternatively, because nonprofits are often held accountable to funders, they provide a more stringent self-assessment on their own capacity level as compared to foundations. Regardless of the reason, we are curious to see if this trend will hold up over time.

2. Foundations see their foundation management capacity as first-rate

We describe management capacity as the ability of a foundation to ensure the effective and efficient use of its diverse organizational resources. FCCAT identifies eight varied components of management, and in seven out of eight of these areas, foundations scores themselves as strong. This makes management capacity the area where foundations received the highest scores overall, and indicates that foundations believe they are excelling in dimensions of management.

3. Staff within foundations perceive their institutional culture in similar ways 

Foundation culture has been getting increasing attention of late (e.g., see GEO’s recent work on organizational culture and microcultures) as an element important to consider in understanding what enables (or thwarts) institutional impact. The FCCAT explores various dimensions of organizational culture, including cohesion, transparency, empowerment, and accountability, among others. Though culture results were not always strong, there was coherence in how different staff at the same foundations rated their culture, indicating that staff across institutions interpret often implicit underlying norms and values in similar ways.

4. Foundations continue to struggle in ensuring diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) 

There has been considerable conversation across the sector in recent years about the imperative of strengthening commitment to DEI. FCCAT results demonstrate that foundations continue to struggle in this arena. Across foundation type (independent, family, community, etc.), DEI capacity was ranked as second lowest overall.

When looking at the items making up this score – one in particular stands out as scoring low – “we actively seek to recruit diverse foundation staff” indicating that while there might be broad interest in expanding DEI within foundations, some of the basic mechanisms for doing so are not yet in place.

5. Foundations highly value learning but evaluation is under-used  

Foundations assess their capacity as strong in the realms of “environmental learning,” “innovation,” and “experimentation,” suggesting that collecting data and reflecting on its importance, informs grantmaking work. This said, evaluation capacity, defined as “incorporating formal and informal evaluation efforts and sharing information with external stakeholders” was rated as the lowest capacity area across all FCCAT participants. This finding is consistent with our experience in working with foundations, and is consistent with findings identified by others in the sector (i.e., Center for Effective Philanthropy and Center for Evaluation Innovation) who have noted capacity challenges in this arena.

We hope these takeaways pique your interest in learning more about how diverse foundations assess their capacity strengths and challenges. To learn more about the FCCAT, including how your foundation can get its own FCCAT report, you can check out our FCCAT FAQs, read our summary piece, or our recent article in the Foundation Review.

If you are interested in taking the FCCAT, email to learn more!


[1] For all capacity and sub-capacity definitions, see Appendix B of: Fine, M., Ed.D., Raynor, J., & Sood, D. (2016). Foundations need capacity, too: Initial findings from the Foundation Core Capacity Assessment Tool. TCC Group. 

Stay Updated

Join our email list to stay updated with TCC Group’s practices, tools, and resources.