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The Audacity of Building Capacity

[Healthcare Georgia Foundation is pleased to introduce “Notes from the Field,” an online feature that offers insights on healthcare and the social determinants of health that affect all Georgians. The views expressed in the post below are the author’s, and do not represent the official views of Healthcare Georgia Foundation.]

Let’s face it. There are numerous health challenges in Georgia and health disparities that at times, seem almost insurmountable. As a funder, Healthcare Georgia Foundation acknowledges our privilege and responsibility to ensure that we remain good stewards of our grantmaking dollars to accomplish our mission to advance the health of all Georgians and to expand access to affordable, quality healthcare services for underserved individuals and communities.

Recently, the Foundation also has become keenly aware that in order to accomplish our mission, we need to take a more upstream, rather than downstream approach, by addressing the social determinants (e.g. poverty, education, employment, transportation) that impact health. Our current funding strategies reflects the Foundation’s values and commitment to place- based grantmaking and to supporting programs that address health equity, thereby reducing health disparities.

So one may question why, given all of the pressing health issues and disparities in Georgia, does the Foundation have the audacity to support capacity building? Unlike our other grantmaking programs, our capacity building program does not provide support for organizations to implement programs or to provide direct services. The reason is simple – we believe that strengthening nonprofits not only helps us to achieve our mission, but that providing organizations with the tools and resources necessary to build their capacity to better fulfill their missions’ leads to stronger organizations, programs, and ultimately, better health outcomes for Georgians.

Capacity building is defined as the funding and technical assistance necessary to help nonprofits increase specific capabilities to deliver stronger programs, take risks, build connections, innovate and iterate. We also know that in striving to achieve health equity, we need to support nonprofit organizations by making sure they have the resources and skills to be able to deliver programs and services that are “grounded in science, built on partnerships and focused on results.” Our capacity building work helps us to accomplish this.

The most exciting part of this program is seeing the relationships that have been formed and/or strengthened as a result of participating in the workshops.

Since inception, the Foundation has been committed to strengthening nonprofit organizations. This is one of the Foundation’s four priority areas and we have implemented different strategies to building capacity among nonprofit organizations. As a learning organization, the Foundation conducted evaluations of our previous capacity building efforts and used the results to develop a program that is better suited to our grantees’ needs, provides a baseline capacity building assessment tool, and utilizes best practices to develop a learning community among our grantees.

[Above: TCC Group facilitated workshops for EmpowerHealth Cohort One (left)
and Cohort Two (right) in Atlanta.]

The Foundation’s EmpowerHealth capacity building grant program was launched in 2016 and is currently a two-year pilot program to empower nonprofit health organizations to strengthen capacity among four core areas (adaptive, leadership, management and technical) and to improve the ability for both staff and board members to operate at an optimal level to provide better results to communities. The Foundation is partnering with TCC Group, a national social impact firm, to implement EmpowerHealth, and is using TCC Group’s Core Capacity Assessment Tool (CCAT) throughout the application process. The CCAT serves as a baseline capacity assessment tool and helps organizations to identify capacity areas that most need strengthening.

To date, the Foundation has funded two EmpowerHealth grantee cohorts. They have conducted a number of organizational capacity building activities, including strategic planning, succession planning, staff and/or board development, marketing, fundraising development and making enhancements in technology or evaluation. Each organization receives a grant to implement a capacity building project based on the priorities identified from the CCAT.

What’s different about this program from the Foundation’s other grantmaking programs is that we also provide grantees an opportunity to participate in capacity building and peer learning workshops. This creates a learning community for our grantees and gives the Foundation staff an opportunity to be more interactive with our grantees. The most exciting part of this program is seeing the relationships that have been formed or strengthened as a result of participating in the workshops.

Another exciting component of the program is that the Foundation has worked with TCC Group to develop capacity around TCC’s Four Core Capacity model among local nonprofit consultants throughout Georgia. These consultants are then able to disseminate this model beyond the Foundation’s EmpowerHealth grantees.

Implementing EmpowerHealth has also allowed the Foundation to think more creatively about how we interact with our grantees.

The Foundation created and moderates  Facebook Group pages for both Cohort One and Two grantees to highlight our grantees’ work, provide timely communications, and to create opportunities for grantees to discuss challenges and accomplishes with each other. The Foundation has also produced several communications tools, including a fact sheet, and videos to share our grantees’ success stories, one of which is featured below.

We have encountered early successes with our EmpowerHealth grant program. So far, evaluation results demonstrate that 88 percent of EmpowerHealth applicants agreed that taking the CCAT was meaningful and useful for their organization. Additionally, our grantees consistently rate the peer learning workshops and having the opportunity to complete the CCAT as two of the most valuable components of the program.

Other personal reflections include the following:

  • Capacity building should and does take time. We think of it as a form of continuous improvement with no clear final destination. Yes, the strategic plan will be completed during the project period, but organizations should always be working to build their capacity. This helps them to be prepared for both the expected and unexpected, such as changing economic conditions, staff and/or board turnover, or policy changes that may impact their target populations.
  • The path to capacity building is not necessarily linear, but can make lots of turns (sometimes backwards) in striving to reach organizational improvement.
  • It is more effective when capacity building takes place at an organizational level, and not just among 1 or 2 individuals. There should be buy-in and active engagement from leadership, staff and board members. It also is extremely helpful if an organization has a champion to move the work forward. In EmpowerHealth, the integration of both the CCAT and the capacity building and peer learning workshops allows the capacity building activities supported to be disseminated throughout the organization rather than on one particular individual.
  • Capacity building work can be a difficult balancing act. Nonprofit organizations have missions, and sometimes with limited staff and resources are already stretched to do the work they are currently doing. Finding the time and resources to conduct a capacity building project, while necessary, may not be a priority. The EmpowerHealth program provides funding to ensure that organizations have the resources to hire a consultant and/or allocate staff time to focus on the capacity building work.
  • Having access to experienced consultants helps the organization to develop concrete goals, move the project forward, and stay on task.
  • Tailoring the focus of the capacity building project to meet the unique needs of the organization has proven to be effective. Organizations identified the area of focus for their project based on the results of the Core Capacity Assessment Tool. This helped them to laser focus on issues that were a priority and would help them move along the organizational life cycle continuum.
  • Evaluation should be integrated throughout the process to determine effectiveness and progress. This helps the organizations to be nimble and to make necessary adjustments. The Foundation is currently working with TCC Group to evaluate the effectiveness of the EmpowerHealth program and to determine which program components have the most impact. We also require that our grantees include funds in their budget dedicated solely to evaluation to determine the effectiveness of their capacity building project.
  • The Foundation exercises flexibility in our grantmaking and encourages grantees to reach out to their program officer if they need to make adjustments in the program or budget in order to accomplish their goals.
  • The capacity building and peer learning workshops have been successful in creating a learning community and to further strengthen capacity among the organization’ leaders. The workshops also creates a safe space for leaders to discuss their projects, accomplishments, and challenges. It has also created opportunities to develop and/or strengthen partnerships among policy and direct service organizations and to develop mentor-mentee relationships.

We continue to learn from our grantees and look forward to highlighting their work and lessons learned. In the meantime, the Foundation continues to strive to have the audacity to support organizations in building their capacity to become more effective agents of change, catalysts for improved health, and ultimately, to advance the health of all Georgians.

 Andrea Young Kellum

[Are you interested in joining our conversation about advancing health and healthcare for all Georgians? We invite you to submit an article to Notes from the Field. To receive our blog topic and submission guidelines, please email Andrea Berry, Director of Communications, Healthcare Georgia Foundation at].

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