Capacity Institute

How do you know if your agency is meeting its mission?

Do you know how to improve your programs’ effectiveness?

How consistently do you help your participants achieve their goals?

You can answer these questions and increase your nonprofit’s effectiveness by building and implementing your performance management system. We can help; the Capacity Institute has already helped 23 nonprofits in Boston make these changes.

Nonprofit performance management is using your data to improve your operations, so that your participants reliably achieve meaningful, measurable, and sustainable outcomes.

Outcomes are changes in participants’ lives: new knowledge, increased skills, changed attitudes or values, leading to a change in behavior, leading to an improved condition or altered status. Your program activities intentionally influence your outcomes — they are not accidental. Outcomes are a nonprofit’s bottom line.

Ultimately, the goal of the process is for the participating agencies to demonstrate the practices necessary to achieve improved outcomes for their participants. Here is more information about performance management for nonprofits:

Hunter Consulting
Leap of Reason
Performance Management
PerformWell
Child Trends, Performance Management
Effective Philanthropy
Collective Impact

Are you helping your participants achieve their goals?

How effective are your programs, really?

How do you know?

Are you improving each year?

The Capacity Institute works! Here are the results from our first two cohorts:

  • 23 of 23 agencies completed the two-year Capacity Institute and built their own performance management systems.
  • 23 of 23 agencies say the quality or outcomes of their programming has already increased because of the work.
  • Early results indicate that these gains are sustained over several years after the Capacity Institute work ends.  In many cases agencies continue to improve performance management practices and participant outcomes.

Below is the list of cohort 1 and cohort 2 agencies and their contact information.  They are eager to tell their stories of success in the Capacity Institute!  Please feel free to reach out to them directly.

Download Chort 1 List

An independent evaluation found that these agencies “reshaped their programs to be more results-focused and their management practices to reflect the principles of performance management.”  Defining the Bottom Line:  An Evaluation of the BMA’s Performance Management Capacity Institute Pilot, Carl Sussman and Kim Comart, January 31, 2013.

Download Evaluation

Cohort Three agencies and investors wanted now! 

The Capacity Institute seeks to work with a third cohort of 8 to 10 small non-profits in New England develop 17 organizational practices that compose the performance management system.

These practices answer the following questions:

  • What are we holding ourselves and our participants accountable to accomplish?
  • How well are we doing?
  • With whom must we partner?
  • How can we improve?

As of March 2017, the Capacity Institute approved and secured needed funding for four of the 8-10 non-profits (see list here). We have space for 4-6 more eligible agencies to be added in 2017.

  • CAPACITY INSTITUTE BENEFITS
  • FAQS
  • FOR COMMUNITY BASED ORGANIZATIONS
  • FOR GRANT MAKERS & INVESTORS
  • WHY IS THE CAPACITY INSTITUTE IMPORTANT

What do agencies receive? How do they benefit?

Each agency will receive the following over two years:

  • Pre- and Post-Assessment on 17 benchmark practices (Click here for youth agency Benchmark Assessment Tool, and here for general agency tool)
  • One agency-wide day-long Theory of Change session (view for more information here)
  • Ten cohort sessions introducing benchmark content (Click here for workshop topics) 100 hours of customized consultation and coaching on these topics to build system:
  • Logic Model and Outcome Measurement Plan
  • Select or develop measurement tools
  • Select, develop, or adapt database, valued at $4,000
  • Troubleshoot data collection process, analyze/learn from data, revise measurement system
  • Develop/adapt staff/volunteer performance appraisal system
  • Use data to improve service delivery, reward performance, make strategic decisions
  • Develop strategic partnerships to improve outcomes
  • Agency Report Card (Click here for report card template)

How will agencies benefit? Each agency will build 17 benchmark practices, including:

  • Measure and analyze outcomes
  • Use outcomes data to improve program quality, reward staff performance, and inform management decisions
  • Inform funders and partners of outcomes
  • Strengthen service partnerships
  • Improved participant outcomes over time

How successful is the Capacity Institute? In the first two two-year cohort, 23 of 25 agencies completed building their performance management systems (two dropped out). 21 of 23 have already seen improvements in the quality of their programming or increased outcomes; the other two experienced programming lags. All 15 agencies embraced the culture change needed to sustain their performance management systems years into the future. See quotes from Cohort 1 agencies.

What is your prior experience with performance management and capacity building? Since 2003, the Boston Capacity Tank (the Tank, the Capacity Institute’s parent program at the Black Ministerial Alliance) has provided over $10 million capacity building resources to over 300 different community-based and faith-based organizations that engage youth in Boston. The Tank has been cited by several national experts for its capacity building promising practices in nonprofit governance, organizational development, programs and services, community engagement, evaluation, and leadership capacity (http://archive.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ocs/ccf/about_ccf/promising_practices/promising_practices.pdf, http://www.daremightythings.com/pdf/media_center/breakthrough_guide.pdf). The Tank has built capacity in the separate components of performance management for the past ten years. In addition, the Tank’s Director, Ellen Bass, has 20 years’ experience teaching logic models and outcome measurements to nonprofits across the nation. See Ellen’s resume.

Will the Capacity Institute help me raise more money? In the short term, the Capacity Institute does not make your organization more attractive to your funders. In fact, we help you focus only on what your organization has committed to help your participants achieve, so that you can measure and improve those outcomes. Once your organization has achieved an increased level of clarity on its mission, participants, and outcomes, and has measured some outcomes data, we provide you with a Report Card template, so you may share your outcomes success with your funders. This is, of course, what they want to see, so we do expect to see a long-term increase in your fundraising success.

What kind of agencies do you work with? To be eligible, agencies must:

  • Have provided direct services to your participants for at least one year;
  • Be a nonprofit, with annual expenses exceeding $200,000 during the last completed fiscal year; and
  • Be committed to participate in the Tank’s training and individualized TA during the project period (average of 10 workshops and 200+ hours of TA).

To be selected, an agency must:

  • Be ready to change the way it does business
  • Be likely to significantly impact outcomes for its target population
  • In short, we work with all kinds of nonprofits, but our history and expertise are with youth agencies in Boston
  • We will travel outside Boston.

Most importantly, we are looking for agencies that are committed to becoming outcomes focused. The only agencies we will not work with are those that are very small or start-ups (budgets under $200,000 annually), because they are not ready to build performance management systems, and those that are not really interested in working hard to become outcomes focused.

How much work will my agency have to do if we participate? Your agency will participate in 10 group sessions and about 200+ hours of customized technical assistance. This can look very different at different agencies, but generally:

  • A small group of Board members will participate at least in the day-long theory of change session and the Sustaining Change group session.
  • The executive director must participate in at least half the group sessions, will appoint and supervise the project lead for the agency (if someone other than the executive director), and will champion the change process with the staff throughout the project and beyond.
  • Staff from each separate program that decides to measure outcomes will spend at least 25 hours building their measurement system and another 25 hours trying it out and tweaking it, often much more. They will also re-write their job descriptions to include accountability areas and competencies needed to help participants achieve outcomes.
  • The resource development staff will spend at least 5 to 10 hours reframing their boilerplate material to include the updated outcomes approach and outcomes data.
  • One staff person will need to assume the responsibility of database administrator. Depending on the size of the agency and the amount of data measured, this is often eventually a half-time position or more.

In addition to the hours spent on the project, the most difficult task is the culture change challenge: convincing yourselves and your colleagues that we will change the way we do business to become an outcomes-driven organization.

Where did the idea for the Capacity Institute come from? The idea of a roadmap to effectiveness grew out of the strategic thinking process of the Boston Capacity Tank (the Tank). The Tank was founded in 2002 by a partnership including the Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston, the United Way of Massachusetts Bay, Emmanuel Gospel Center, and Boston TenPoint Coalition. The Tank’s purpose was to build the capacity of faith-based and community-organizations that serve youth in Boston, especially youth at high risk, so that they may become sustainable and effective. Over the next ten years, the Tank distributed more than $10 million of capacity building services to more than 300 youth agencies in Boston in five critical areas: (1) organizational development, (2) leadership development, (3) programs/services, (4) community engagement, and (5) fundraising capacity. These services have helped 98% client agencies achieve organizational development outcomes. Agencies increased their understanding, learned new skills, made new plans, and even changed organizational behavior related to their consultancies. However, even with that success, we could not answer the question whether our work was helping agencies become more effective or more sustainable.

One of our board sub-committees wrestled with the question, How do we know if we are accomplishing our purpose? We decided to take our ten years’ experience delivering capacity building services to youth agencies and develop a capacity road map leading to effectiveness, and another one leading to sustainability. Next we decided to focus on the effectiveness roadmap, specifically what a high performing youth agency looked like, rather than to define minimum standards. We defined effectiveness as the ability to improve measured participant outcomes over time.

Then, we looked at the best and the brightest youth agencies among us and asked, What are they doing in common that the others are not doing? Specifically, we considered Roca, Hyde Square Task Force, and Sociedad Latina. Based on our observations we developed the 17 benchmark practices which now form the foundation of the Capacity Institute. One common element they shared was working with David Hunter; this discovery started our intentional apprenticeship of his practices. We decided to work with a small cohort of 15 agencies over a two years period of time, to ensure the whole system is built and implemented. We decided not to pursue the sustainability road map, since Bridgespan’s facilitated business development planning process covers that territory so well, in our experience. (Please see http://www.bridgespan.org/Publications-and-Tools/Strategy-Development/Business-Planning-for-Nonprofits-What-It-Is-and-Wh.aspx)

Armed with the 17 benchmarks, we began to seek funds to pilot the process. The Corporation for National and Community Service’s Nonprofit Capacity Building Program, designed to build performance management systems in nonprofit agencies, required building 10 practices, which exactly matched 10 of our 17 practices. Thankfully we found match funding from our partners at United Way of Massachusetts Bay, The Boston Foundation, and Yawkey Foundation, and were honored to be selected as one of five projects funded across the nation.

How much does it cost? The Capacity Institute uses a sliding scale fee based on agency budget size:  

  • $200,000 to $2 million budget:  $30,000 over two years, $15,000 paid at the beginning of each year
  • $2 million to $5 million budget:  $40,000 over two years, $20,000 paid at the beginning of each year
  • $5 million budget and higher:  $50,000 over two years, $25,000 paid at the beginning of each year

This amount may be paid on a fee for service basis or it may be supported partially or entirely by funding partners.  Scholarships may be available to cover up to 50% of the fee.  For more information please contact Ellen Bass at 617-445-2737 x 113 or ebass@bmaboston.org.  

Your agency will receive:

  • 10 two-hour workshop sessions
  • At least 200+ hours customized consultation over two years
  • $4,000 towards your database
  • $2,000 stipend

These products allow us to help you create outcome measurement plans and data measurement systems for the agency’s core programs and the processes necessary to help you drive your agency’s culture change.

Why does it take two years to complete the Capacity Institute? In Year 1 we work with you to build the complete program outcome measurement system, including these steps:

  • Articulate theory of change
  • Develop logic models
  • Create outcome measurement plans
  • Select or develop outcome tools
  • Select a database and begin to customize it to your operations.

In Year 2, we coach you to implement your plan and begin to institutionalize culture change:

  • Measure and analyze outcomes data
  • Complete database project
  • Align human resource systems
  • Strengthen strategic partnerships
  • Align outcomes system with your fundraising operation
  • Use data to strengthen program, reward staff, and inform management decisions

How is the Capacity Institute funded? Cohort 1 (2010-2012) funders included:

  • Corporation for National and Community Service
  • United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley
  • Yawkey Foundation
  • The Boston Foundation
  • Barr Foundation
  • State Street Foundation

Cohort 2 (2013-2015) funders included:

  • The Boston Foundation
  • Fee for service payments from client agencies
  • State Street Foundation
  • Daintree Advisors
  • Anonymous individual donor

Cohort 3 (2016-2017) funders to date include:

  • Project IMPACT, an initiative of State Street Foundation and United Way of Mass Bay
  • Fee for Service payments from client agencies
  • Commonwealth of MA Department of Labor Workforce Development Fund (expected)

Is my organization eligible?  To be eligible, agencies must:

  • Have provided direct services to your participants for at least one year;
  • Be a nonprofit, with annual expenses exceeding $200,000 during the last completed fiscal year; and
  • Be committed to participate in the Tank’s training and individualized TA during the project period (average of 10 workshops and 200+ hours of free TA).

How do you select agencies to participate in the Capacity Institute?  To be selected, an agency must:

  • Be ready to change the way it does business
  • Be likely to significantly impact outcomes for its target population

In short, we work with all kinds of nonprofits, but our history and expertise are with youth agencies in Boston, especially those that engage youth at high risk.  We will travel outside Boston.  Most importantly, we are looking for agencies that are committed to becoming outcomes focused.  The only agencies we will not work with are those that are very small or start-ups (budgets under $200,000 annually), because they are not ready to build performance management systems, and those that are not really interested in working hard to become outcomes focused.

Consultation and Coaching Process.  See What do agencies receive?  How do they benefit?

How do we pay for these services? 

The Capacity Institute uses a sliding scale fee based on agency budget size:  

  • $200,000 to $2 million budget:  $30,000 over two years, $15,000 paid at the beginning of each year
  • $2 million to $5 million budget:  $40,000 over two years, $20,000 paid at the beginning of each year
  • $5 million budget and higher:  $50,000 over two years, $25,000 paid at the beginning of each year

This amount may be paid on a fee for service basis or it may be supported partially or entirely by funding partners.  Scholarships may be available to cover up to 50% of the fee.  For more information please contact Ellen Bass at 617-445-2737 x 113 or ebass@bmaboston.org.  I am currently seeking qualified agencies and funding for the 4 to 6 remaining slots until they are filled.

What will be expected of my organization?  Your agency will participate in 10 group sessions and about 100 hours of customized technical assistance.  This can look very different at different agencies, but generally:

  • A small group of Board members will participate at least in the day-long theory of change session and the Sustaining Change group session.
  • The executive director will participate in at least half the group sessions, will appoint and supervise the project lead for the agency (if someone other than the executive director), and must champion the change process with the staff throughout the project and beyond.
  • Staff from each separate program that decides to measure outcomes will spend at least 25 hours building their measurement system and another 25 hours trying it out and tweaking it, often much more.  They will also re-write their job descriptions to include accountability areas and competencies needed to help participants achieve outcomes.
  • The resource development staff will spend at least 5 to 10 hours reframing their boilerplate material to include the updated outcomes approach and outcomes data.
  • One staff person will assume the responsibility of database administrator.  Depending on the size of the agency and the amount of data measured, this is often eventually a half-time position or more.

In addition to the hours spent on the project, the most difficult task is the culture change challenge:  convincing yourselves and at least 75% of your colleagues that you will change the way you do business to become an outcomes-driven organization.  First, you will learn to believe that you can manage to outcomes, then you will begin to implement outcomes practices, then you will sustain these practices over time until everyone does them.

Many funders believe…

  • There are too many nonprofits.
  • Nonprofits need to demonstrate clear outcomes.

Here is the problem:  With limited philanthropic dollars, wise funder investments should lead to a clear social benefit.  However, most nonprofits are unable to quantify the social benefit they achieve, in the form of participant outcomes, in a way that is mission-centric for them.

Nonprofits must manage to a double bottom line.  The profit of a nonprofit is its community value, often defined as outcomes for participants.  If a nonprofit is unclear on its outcomes and target population, it can’t manage to them, which minimizes its impact.  Many nonprofits are unclear on the outcomes they achieve, unable to communicate success on outcomes achievement, and ill-equipped to manage to improve outcomes.  Ideally, funders will make investments in nonprofits that yield clear and measurable returns in the form of participant outcomes.

  • What are your favorite nonprofits?
  • Why do you give to them?
  • Are they creating a profit, achieving outcomes? 
  • How do you know?
  • What if all nonprofits had to demonstrate a clear profit, an outcomes report?

Why Don’t Nonprofits Already Manage to Outcomes?  For many nonprofits, the mission is not defined in terms of outcomes or impact.  Often no one has taken time to clarify exactly what outcomes the organization is in business to help its participants achieve. Many social sector leaders are focused on relationships that develop partnerships and revenue.  In all but the smallest agencies, many boards and executive directors do not see program oversight and outcome performance as their priority.  They are disconnected from service operations and staff that achieve outcomes – the mission.  In most agencies, no one has imagined that participant outcomes achievement is related to organizational management performance.  But in fact, outcomes achievement can and should drive nonprofit organizational performance.

The Capacity Institute is a proven model that has been tested with 23 agencies over 5 years, to bring them from moderate performance towards high performance.  The Capacity Institute works! Here are the results to date:

  • 23 of 23 agencies completed the two-year Capacity Institute and built their own performance management systems.
  • 21 of 23 agencies say the quality or outcomes of their programming has already increased because of the work.
  • Early results indicate that these gains are sustained over several years after the Capacity Institute work ends.  In many cases agencies continue to improve performance management practices and participant outcomes.

If you know an agency that is committed to becoming high performing, and just needs some guidance and accountability to get there, we can help.

Why does nonprofit performance management consultation matter? We equip nonprofits to become high performing, helping them to:

  • Clarify their missions and define what success is
  • Build their performance management systems, with measurable outcomes
  • Use program and outcomes data to drive outcomes improvement and mission attainment

The Capacity Institute intends to change the way community-based nonprofits operate their business, so that they are focusing all their time and resources on helping their participants achieve clear outcomes related to the mission of the organization (and on sustaining and improving that ability).[1]

This is important, because most nonprofits don’t operate this way now. Many nonprofits can talk about their outcomes and many can also count their participants. However, until a nonprofit can define what success is for its participants in a measurable way, then it can’t know if it’s helping them achieve that success, or how to improve at its core business. If a nonprofit isn’t clearly helping its participants achieve mission-related success, then it is wasting its precious limited resources. It is not too difficult, and any organization that wants to can do it.

Can you imagine a for-profit business unsure of its profit? It would not survive long. Both funders and nonprofit leaders can revolutionize the way we do business, so that we fund to outcomes and manage to outcomes. As Mario Morino declares in his book Leap of Reason, “It’s no longer good enough to make the case that we’re addressing real needs. We need to prove that we’re making a real difference. …Are we ready to take a sector-wide leap of reason? If not now, when?” (pp. 42 and 45)

This is important, so that we can be good stewards of the financial resources entrusted to us.

This is important, because the social benefits that we are in business to accomplish aren’t evidently happening. If a nonprofit does not know how successful it is, then it certainly is unable to improve its ability to accomplish that benefit. People’s lives are at stake.

Why does the Capacity Institute work?

Agencies build a comprehensive performance management system, not just part, starting with a clear mission statement and theory of change, including measurement tools, a database, human resource practices, and partnerships. The process helps agencies to address the culture change that’s needed to sustain these practices in the long term. The process builds on the staff and board’s existing strong commitment to the organization’s mission to drive their commitment to making the necessary changes to build, implement, and sustain the performance management system over time. The Capacity Institute staff and consultants bring to the work not only expertise in nonprofit performance management, but also deep familiarity and relationships with community, families, programs, and agencies.

Why is it necessary to work so intensively for two years? Because culture change is difficult to achieve and sustain. It affects all these processes:

  • How we define success for the organization
  • Who we accept into our program and who we refer out
  • What our priorities and competencies are in individual staff roles
  • How we make decisions about engaging and directing participants
  • How we spend our time
  • What we do with data
  • How long we work with participants
  • How much it costs to serve each participant
  • How we allocate resources
  • How we raise resources
  • How we develop and reward staff performance
  • Which agencies we partner with and what we expect of them
  • If we change part of the system, if only part of our team embraces the new way of doing business, we will invariably revert back to the old way. High performing organizations we know describe that they spent 3 to 10 years transforming their culture to manage to outcomes.

For more information, please see chapter entitled Culture is the Key, from Mario Morino’s free book, Leap of Reason.[26] All the relevant operational practices need to be addressed, then that change needs to be supported until it is fully embraced by the organization’s influencers. Management guru John Kotter has published research indicating that at least 75 percent of an organization’s leadership needs to be convinced that business as usual must change for any change process to last.[37]


[1] Not every nonprofit is in business to help participants achieve outcomes.  Some nonprofits are in business to deliver a quality service, and do not expect participants to change anything.  Good examples are a soup kitchen, whose only goal is to serve nutritious soup, or the Missionaries of Charity, whose mission is to care for the poorest of the poor, and not to change them.  The Capacity Institute engages outcomes-focused nonprofits.  Other nonprofits that are not outcomes focused can still manage their performance; it is focused on how much service they provide and the quality of that service.