Clark Foundation Long-term relationships

The Clark Foundation tries to incorporate capacity building discussions into each interaction with its grantees, with whom the foundation has long-term relationships. “I haven't drawn up an average, but I would guess the typical length of relationship we have with grantees is probably 10 to 15 years in duration, with some going on more than 50 years,” says Doug Bauer, executive director at the Clark Foundation. “We know these groups really well. We have deep relationships with them, and they know that we have a commitment to grantee capacity building. So we try to create space for capacity building to come up.”

For the Clark Foundation creating space means making sure capacity building gets discussed in multiple interactions, beyond just site visits, so that grantees have more than one opportunity to initiate the conversation. “In many cases the grantee leadership will bring it up,” says Bauer. “For example, they’ll say, ‘We need to address outcomes measurement in a more effective manner than we have. Could you suggest a consultant that we might be able to utilize to help us really embark on that journey?’” Sometimes foundation staff will begin the capacity building dialogue. “On occasion, if we see a continued lack of performance in a particular component of a nonprofit, we may make suggestions,” says Bauer. “But first we'll ask what's going on.”

For the Clark Foundation, interacting regularly with grantees on capacity building helps it support more proactive than reactive capacity building strategies.  “A lot of foundation-funded capacity building for nonprofits tends to be done on an emergency basis," says Bauer. "As my colleague Don Crocker at the Support Center for Nonprofit Management says, capacity building provider organizations are often called upon to act as 'emergency room doctors.' Especially since the economic correction in 2008, a number of nonprofits have been in big trouble and we've had to try and figure out how to help them. However, to coin another term from Don, capacity building providers can also act as 'personal trainers.' They can work with nonprofits in pretty decent shape programmatically and operationally that don't want to fall back, and are trying to get better.” Given the fact that the Clark Foundation has mature relationships with grantees, it prefers to have “personal trainer” discussions with grantees. “We see our role as helping them build further muscle and tone," says Bauer.