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We are always learning through our work, and we seek to accelerate change more broadly by sharing our frameworks, approaches, and lessons learned.

Building Capacity Through Cohorts: What the Packard Foundation is Learning

Organizational Effectiveness at the David & Lucile Packard Foundation has long supported individual leaders and organizations in becoming stronger and more resilient. They’ve long had success in the short- and longer-term building the capacity of individual nonprofits working in their programmatic areas by supporting things like consultant support for strategic planning, fund development, or leadership development. In recent years, OE experimented with a new model, seeking to support social and environmental change on a larger scale by fostering relationships and networks instead of just supporting individual organizations. This new model, called Partnership Projects, are grants focused on cohorts of individual leaders or grantee organizations and are designed to build the capacity of participants while they learn from their peers and grow their networks. In early 2017, ORS Impact conducted an evaluation of nine such projects to understand the effectiveness of the cohort model of capacity building and whether participants built lasting relationships with other leaders or organizations to exchange resources and ideas, address shared issues, and act in concert to accomplish what cannot be accomplished individually. Findings suggest that Partnership Projects, like OE’s traditional grants, are effective for building capacity in the project focus area(s). The model has also demonstrated that participants experience the added benefits of learning from their peers and—in many cases—growing their networks. Our evaluation found Partnership Projects are a promising model for supporting capacity building, particularly when having grantees share information or collaborate (rather than work in isolation) is key to achieving impact. You can read our findings and recommendations about when the cohort model of capacity building is best suited, and how those designing and/or implementing cohort capacity-building projects can maximize the effectiveness of the model here .