From 2008 to 2010, twenty-seven community organizing nonprofits in California took part in an unusual and ambitious statewide initiative, Strengthening Organizations to Mobilize Californians (the "Initiative"). Funded by three leading foundations -- The James Irvine Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and David and Lucile Packard Foundation -- the Initiative sought to help nonprofits strengthen their organizations by focusing on such key areas as leadership, decision-making, communication and fundraising.
The premise was that stronger organizations could better meet the needs of communities and give their residents more of a voice in civic life. Thus, through the Initiative each foundation sought to support its broader purpose, from improving educational opportunities and access to health care to increasing civic engagement and reforming California's governance system to better reflect the state's diversity.
The Initiative specifically explored how different approaches to working with organizations supported change. How did peer exchanges compare with trainings that relied more on expert input? Would convenings enable the kind of networking that organizations need to develop and build momentum for their ideas? How much additional benefit would nonprofits derive from additional coaching time? Findings from the Initiative hold implications for other philanthropic staff members who seek to design, implement and improve capacity building.
The insights and lessons presented in this report were distilled through an assessment process that included:
- A review of data gathered through Event Feedback Forms completed by participants at each activity and event over the course of the Initiative
- A post-Initiative survey administered online to all participating organizations, with a response rate of 39 individuals representing 24 out of 27 organizations (89%)
- Two focus groups attended by 10 executive directors and senior staff from participating organizations
- Reflective conversations with the foundation partners