A formula for change

I’ve been going through a lot of old files and recently ran across a paper I wrote a few years ago that summarized lessons we learned from the foundation’s early work in capacity building in the arts. I was surprised at how obvious some of these lessons seem now, and how relevant they still are to the work I and my colleagues do with nonprofits every day.

In hopes that they may be of interest to you, here are a few, sans extensive elucidation:

Capacity building takes a long time and cannot be narrowly defined.
One-shot projects outside the context of a thoughtful organizational strategy are merely quick-fix efforts, and are not likely to have lasting impact. 

Capacity building is different from start-up support.
Some capacity is needed in order to build more.

Crisis trumps everything.
Organizations in crisis need other kinds of help and are not appropriate candidates for strategic capacity building.

Staff turnover is the bane of effective capacity building.
Progress stops, institutional memory is lost and the organization often takes a step or two backward.

Self-awareness and a culture of honest self-assessment are the keys to success in any capacity building effort.
These are critical “readiness factors” for any organization contemplating a capacity building effort.

External assessment is, hands-down, the best place to begin a capacity-building undertaking.
Few organizations have ever sought a cold, hard look at their organization through the lens of a skilled and critical outsider. We’re talking a 360-degree internal/external look in all the closets and under all the rocks, a shine-the-harsh-light-of-day assessment.

Self-determined and self-directed goal-setting is best.
Like the child who will give himself a much harsher punishment than what you had in mind, honest organizations will set better and often higher goals for themselves if the funder lets them.

Finally, for those contemplating taking on some capacity building effort to create positive change, I offer this “Formula for Successful Change” from a wise woman of my past:

DSQ (sq) x VIS + KFS >> E + CC

Dissatisfaction with the status quo (squared), times Vision of an Improved State, plus Knowledge of the First Steps, leads to the Energy and Commitment to Change.