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How Foundation Center Helps Organizations Improve Effectiveness

A little over 18 months ago, Foundation Center was approached by Garrett Dolan from Shell Upstream Americas, who wanted to help build the capacity of a group of nonprofits in two counties in Wyoming and Colorado. Specifically, they wanted to shift these organizations from a culture of “crisis fundraising” to one where a more sustainable and strategic fundraising planning process is institutionalized.

The goal

Improve the organizations’ fundraising efficiency, effectiveness, and ability to attract and retain donors and investors.

The strategy

In this case, an in-depth level of engagement would be required to meet this goal. This would not be achieved with a single workshop. In fact, the type of capacity-building program that best suited these objectives was new for many of us. It required an iterative process with frequent assessment, coupled with a deep commitment from the funders, Foundation Center, and the participants. To successfully achieve the ambitious goal, we designed a six-month training program for the cohorts that required two key ingredients:  

Critical collaboration. Shell Upstream Americas quickly teamed us up with the appropriate local Wyoming and Colorado community foundations that would be able to provide input and support surrounding curriculum design, recruitment of local nonprofit participants, and the mapping of programmatic targets and milestones. The collaboration among these community foundations and Foundation Center was essential because it allowed us to tailor the curriculum and timeline to the unique needs of these two specific communities.

One reason this program was so successful was the community foundations’ commitment to building open, healthy funder-grantee relationships. They were actively involved throughout the program and provided vital support to the participants. (Read more about this ingredient for successful grantee capacity building in Supporting Grantee Capacity: Strengthening Effectiveness Together, published recently by GrantCraft, a service of Foundation Center.)

New adult learning trends.  This program was designed to help participants identify current healthy and “unhealthy” practices in their organizations (reflective learning) and knowledge that would help them build and implement a fundraising plan that made sense for their situations (practical learning).

Using a blending learning model, which is appropriate for all types of adult learners, the program included individual assignments, group exercises, in-person seminars, and live and recorded webinars. We also formed online peer learning groups and provided one-on-one coaching sessions with Foundation Center's expert trainers.

The impact

The participants exceeded multiple targets and milestones for this program. More than the anticipated number of organizations completed a fundraising plan. Nonprofit leaders in these communities are now more collaborative and networked, and individual participants strengthened their professional network and developed their leadership and management skills. 

Foundation Center learned many things through the Shell Nonprofit Sustainability Program, which we will use to improve the effectiveness of our training courses in 2015 and beyond. We know that strong, sustainable nonprofits have a ripple effect on the communities, families, and individuals that they serve, which is why Foundation Center has been connecting nonprofit leaders to the resources they need to thrive for decades, through a variety of in-person and virtual learning opportunities and the resources we make available at more than 470 Funding Information Network partner locations worldwide.

This special program highlights Foundation Center Training’s core capacity-building competencies: fundraising, organizational sustainability, leadership, and management. For more information on our capacity-building training, contact Katie Casey, director of capacity and leadership development, at

Sarah Jo Neubauer

-- Sarah Jo Neubauer
Capacity and Leadership Development Manager
Foundation Center

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