Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Strengthening Organizational Capacity and Practices for High-Performing Nonprofit Organizations: Evidence from the National Assessment of the Social Innovation Fund-A Public-Private Partnership

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Strengthening Organizational Capacity and Practices for High-Performing Nonprofit Organizations: Evidence from the National Assessment of the Social Innovation Fund-A Public-Private Partnership

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In the past decade, interest has intensified in the practice of developing organizational capacity to achieve programmatic goals. According to Harsh (2012), capacity building increases the ability of an organization to respond effectively to change by providing its staff with the skills and tools needed to identify and resolve problems over time. Although the nonprofit sector is widely viewed as a catalyst for change and a mechanism for serving societal needs, it faces substantial capacity challenges. De Vita and her colleagues (2001) observed that many small, community-based organizations are structurally fragile and many larger nonprofits are stretched to their limits. As demands for community-based services grow, with the identification of new needs and emergence of new service paradigms, nonprofits are continually challenged to strengthen their organizational capacity. On the other hand, there is a dearth of evidence-based information about what works and what does not work in building the organizational capacity of nonprofits. This is primarily because the philanthropic sector historically has paid little attention to capacity building, which was rarely supported by funders and of secondary importance to nonprofit managers whose priority is to deliver programs and services to people in need (Venture Philanthropy Partners, 2001). Nonprofits were further stretched during the 2008-12 recession. According to IRS data, charities with $50,000 or more fared somewhat worse during the recession-driven years of 2008-12 than during the previous four years (2004-08), although the difference was more modest than some had expected (Brown et.al., 2013). This situation is beginning to evolve, however, as more funders dedicate attention and financial support to developing organizational capacity.

This article contributes to the literature in two important ways. First, it provides a case study to test and advance theories about developing organization capacity that can be applied to a broader context, and presents empirical evidence concerning the ways that a high-profile federal program has addressed the twin goals of promoting evidence-based innovation while strengthening the organizational capacity of high-performing nonprofits. Second, the study features several methodological elements that enhance the evaluation's rigor. The evaluation employs two comparison groups, measures organizational capacity in terms of organizational behaviors, and supplements self-report with documentary evidence. In the rest of this article, we first present an overview of theoretical perspectives and empirical evidence that informed the national assessment. Next, we describe the SIF program and the national assessment. Finally, we present the findings and conclusions.

THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES AND EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE

Organizational capacity refers to the wide range of capabilities, knowledge, and resources that an organization can employ to solve problems and achieve goals (Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, n.d.). Harsh (2012) presents a "multiple-dimension" approach to capacity building. Her four essential dimensions include: type of capacity (human, structural, organizational, or material); stage of capacity (exploration, emerging, full, or sustainability); level of capacity (information, skills, structures, or processes); and desired outcome of capacity. She argues that identifying the organization's starting point and capacity goals within these four dimensions is essential to designing a successful change initiative. She also speaks to the importance of monitoring implementation continuously to make mid-course corrections.

Wandersman and colleagues (2012) provide a logic model and roadmap for addressing gaps and improving organizational capacity. Much like Harsh's framework, the first step involves identifying existing capacity and the desired outcomes of capacity building initiatives. This existing capacity is then built upon using an iterative process that applies four support components-capacity tools, training, technical assistance (TA), and quality assurance/quality improvement- until goals are achieved. …

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