From the Executive Director

From Strength to Greater Strength: How Capacity Building Grants Elevate Organizations

By Chip Edelsberg on February 19th, 2015

In the Foundation’s ongoing efforts to identify and analyze best grantmaking strategies, we have seen grantees achieve outcomes that both strengthen organizational capacity and position organizations for future growth. By virtue of grantees’ strong performance, the Foundation is gaining experience as a capacity building funder.

Before I share examples of successes, it is helpful to understand what a capacity building grant actually is designed to do. The term itself is somewhat general and may refer to different types of grants, depending on the context and situation of the potential grantee.

Capacity building, broadly defined, refers to “activities that strengthen nonprofits so that they can better achieve their mission.”[1]  Tools exist to help organizations assess their capacity.[2]  Organizations at different points of relatively predictable organizational life stages[3] potentially can benefit from differentiated, targeted capacity building support.

The goals of capacity building grants are equally as general and can apply to various aspects of the grantee’s operations: “In theory, capacity building is designed to change some aspect of an organization’s existing environment, internal structure, leadership, and management systems, which, in turn, should improve employee morale, expertise, productivity, efficiency, and so forth, which should strengthen an organization’s capacity to do its work, which should increase organizational performance.”[4]

To shed light on capacity building, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) offers detailed answers to this grantmaking strategy and to related factors such as readiness and assessment.  In general, GEO is an excellent source of information for those readers seeking insight into current trends in funding of capacity building.

For our purposes, the Foundation sees that regardless of an organization’s size, age, target audience, and goals within the arena of Jewish education, capacity building grants can be a catalyst for improved performance and major growth.

Hillel, for example, is 101 years old. The Foundation awarded Hillel a capacity building grant in 2014 that built on the success of its Senior Jewish Educators/Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative. The 2014 grant award included funding for the development of a comprehensive business plan as well as funding for efforts that are part of Hillel's three pillars for future growth of the organization—Excellence on Campus: Supporting and Measuring Quality; Excellence in Recruiting and Developing Talent; and Excellence in Resource Development.

Under the leadership of CEO Eric Fingerhut and with support of Hillel’s Board of Directors, Hillel is taking decisive steps to grow from a $90 million per year organization to a sustainable $200 million per year organization. The Jim Joseph Foundation recent grant is assisting Hillel to determine if this aspirational future is achievable and to enable the organization to chart a path toward desirable growth.

Moishe House, an organization much younger than Hillel, has been in existence for just nine years. Yet it already has exhibited rapid growth, and it has positively influenced the lives of tens of thousands of young Jewish adults across the United States and internationally. Moishe House is poised, potentially, to accelerate its growth and positioned to reach ambitious milestones in part because a group of foundations joined together to help Moishe House design and implement a Strategic Growth Plan. The development of that plan was funded significantly by the Jim Joseph Foundation after a 2011 external evaluation of Moishe House demonstrated that the organization had developed an effective, affordable, and scalable approach to executing on its mission.

In both these cases, Hillel and Moishe House conducted careful strategic planning that was core to their capacity building. The Jim Joseph Foundation believes dedicating resources for this type of planning is an effective way for the Foundation to support not-for-profit capacity building.

The Jim Joseph Foundation also has seen that capacity building grants can actually help to advance an entire field. The clearest example is the emerging field of Israel education, which has been rapidly developed by the iCenter during the last five years. Through a series of grants, the iCenter’s capacity has grown—evidenced, for example, in its remarkable network of expert educators and skilled staff who work with major organizations and educational institutions across the country to advance Israel education.

Recently, I attended a Taglit Fellows seminar for Cohort 2, a project generously funded by the Maimonides Fund. The iCenter, in partnership with Taglit-Birthright Israel, designed the seminar, bringing together experts in Jewish education to train and support nearly 100 Taglit Fellows (for just one cohort) who will staff Taglit-Birthright Israel trips serving in a pre-trip, trip, and post-trip role to augment participants’ Birthright Israel experience. A cohort 2 Fellow and leaders of the program shared their thoughts here, indicative of the deep impact and broad reach the iCenter now enjoys.

Finally, over the last two years, the Foundation has awarded multiple grants designed to build capacity of organizations in the very active emerging field of Jewish Outdoor, Food, and Environmental Education (JOFEE). The JOFEE report, commissioned with other funders, was an important determining factor in the Foundation’s assessment that this field is ripe for maturation and further professionalization, with the potential for significant outcomes in Jewish education.

Obviously, we have much to learn still about capacity building grants. Professionally, I am of the persuasion that “in order to reach and sustain social impact, philanthropists need to assign greater value to grantees’ capacity to implement programs; encourage ongoing learning and adaptation as work unfolds; and support a foundation of organizational and operational structures, processes, and capabilities that ultimately turn vision into change on the ground.”[i] At the Jim Joseph Foundation, we are seeing that smart funding, tailored to an individual organization’s life stage, capacity building readiness, and demonstrated commitment to maximizing organizational effectiveness and field impact, creates exciting philanthropic opportunity.

[1] Connolly and York. Building the Capacity of Capacity Builders, 2003, p.3

[2] TCC’s Core Capacity Assessment Tool – the CCAT – has also had more than a decade of use.

McKinsey and Company’s Capacity Assessment Grid has been in use since 2000.

[3] Brothers. Building Nonprofit Capacity: A Guide to Managing Change Through Organizational Lifecycles. 2011.

Connolly. Navigating the Organizational Life Cycle. 2006.

Olive Grove Consulting. Characteristics of Organizational Life Cycle Stages.

[4] Light, Paul. Sustaining Nonprofit Performance, p. 46

[i] Patrizi and Thompson. Beyond the Veneer of Strategic Planning, The Foundation Review 2, no. 3 (2011): 52-60.

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One response to “From Strength to Greater Strength: How Capacity Building Grants Elevate Organizations”

  1. […] the organization and often have also resulted from the development of strategic and business plans, capacity building plans, and pivots in overall mission and vision. Bridge funding also has been awarded as an initial foray […]

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The Jim Joseph Foundation invests in promising Jewish education grant initiatives. We partner with effective organizations that seek to inspire young people to discover the joy of living vibrant Jewish lives.