Demystifying Capacity Building: Voices From The Field

Degree Name

MA in Intercultural Service, Leadership, and Management

First Advisor

Donovan Russell


How do capacity builders select capacity building approaches to meet program outcomes? What capacity building engagements/activities are most effective? What tools are used to measure impact and how are results disseminated to staff, current donors, and potential donors? These are just some of many questions that small-to-mid sized foundations ask as they try to navigate the language, theories, and maze commonly referred to as capacity building.

This research paper is designed to present the data to provide guidance and direction to board members of small-to-mid sized foundations to ease apprehension about providing funds for capacity building programs. To do this, an electronic survey was developed using Light and Hubbard’s conceptual framework to map the various levels on which capacity building operates and where it is meant to serve- individuals, organizations, interest communities, or a sector as a whole. Represented in the survey results are responses from 26 distinct countries highlighting the global nature of capacity building strategies and their inherent funding challenges.

Capacity builders agree that truly effective capacity building activities are dependant on a multitude of variables. The better the systemic understanding of capacity building, the more strategic a foundation’s interventions can be. Bottom-line: There is just too much development jargon that confuses many foundation boards leading to reluctance to provide scare resources to fund potentially impactful capacity building strategies. To truly build commitment for capacity development, both grantees and donors need to articulate more clearly, develop a common language, and negotiate a shared understanding of the value and impact of capacity building activities.


Organizational Behavior and Theory

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