Capacity Building Grantmaking Best Practices

March 7th, 2023

Jim Joseph Foundation “Build Grants” invest in the capacity of Jewish education organizations to dramatically scale their programming to reach larger and more diverse audiences. The Foundation commissioned Third Plateau to deepen its understanding of fieldwide capacity building best practices to further iterate on the Build Grants structure and strategies. Throughout the research, Third Plateau found deep connections between best practices in the field and the Foundation’s strategies and practices for Build Grants. Key findings from the research, the overlap with the Foundation’s existing practices, and considerations for future work are shared below.

  • Capacity building is loosely-defined, and language is evolving. There is no standard definition or set of strategies that funders consistently use for capacity building. However, both nonprofits and foundations generally agree that any investment that supports the long-term sustainability of an organization can be considered capacity building. The term itself is being discussed and debated as organizations focused on creating more equity in philanthropy have adopted and championed “building resilience” as an asset-based alternative.
  • There are five major best practices associated with successful capacity building grantmaking. Across existing research and interviews with field experts, five elements routinely were identified as effective strategies for capacity building: supplementing grants with non-monetary support, developing trusting relationships with grantees, offering multi-year, flexible funding grants, taking an ecosystem-wide approach, and utilizing a DEI framework.
  • The Foundation is implementing many strategies that are considered best practices through its Capacity Build Grants. Foundation staff are a significant resource to Capacity Build Grant recipients, developing trusting relationships, carrying an open dialogue, and helping them identify areas for learning, growth and potential interventions. The Foundation’s Scaling Build Grants provide multi-year flexible funding to support grantee growth capital, and they have specific giving areas and strategies where investments in the capacity of multiple organizations might support overall growth in the field.
  • There are strategies, tactics, and adaptations of current practices that the Foundation can explore, as well as other ways to consider investing additional resources. The Foundation could further support the organizations through wrap-around services, such as building peer networks for organizations receiving Build Grants or providing external coaching support for leaders navigating growth and change processes at their organizations. They could utilize a DEI framework to improve grantee experiences and enhance the overall impact of the grant. The Foundation could offer an anonymized evaluation process to gather more information on grantee perceptions of Build Grant support, which could enhance the Foundation’s understanding of additional needs.
  • The Foundation’s efforts to shore up organizational capacities in advance of providing Scaling Build Grants is aligned with the field’s recommendations. Assessing readiness for scaling is complicated, and there is no one assessment tool or set of metrics that support an understanding of an organization’s readiness to scale its programming. Several sources indicated that scaling is most effective in organizations with solid infrastructure, particularly those with talented staff and strong financial resources.
  • Organizations should define scaling success metrics. Many question if increasing organizational reach (participant numbers) should be the primary way to evaluate successful scaling efforts. The Foundation has an opportunity to define success in partnership with grantees, ensuring the goals of the Foundation and its organizational partners are met.
  • A nimble approach to a mixed methods evaluation is key to evaluating capacity building grantmaking strategies. The use of causal design, equitable and culturally-responsive, or rapid cycle-change methodologies can help foundations understand the complexities of capacity building work and its effectiveness. The Foundation can learn from the field by examining lessons learned from developmental, formative, and summative evaluations of capacity building initiatives.

“Capacity Building Grantmaking Best Practices,” Third Plateau, January 2023