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A New Grantee’s Guide to OE

As a former capacity building consultant and now the newest member of the Packard Foundation’s Organizational Effectiveness (OE) team, it has been my fortune to immerse myself in the work of OE over the last month. There has been a lot to learn, and I am happy to be in a position to share some of that with all of you who may also be new to OE at the Foundation.

So, for all of the curious ones out there, here is my newbie’s guide to OE at the Packard Foundation. This post will consider questions including: What is OE? What is an OE project? What isn’t? Who can be funded? A lot of this information is also on our website, and I’ll provide links to that too.

What is Organizational Effectiveness (OE) at the Packard Foundation?
For more than 25 years, Organizational Effectiveness at the Packard Foundation has provided grants to support fundamental, core operational capacities that ensure that grantees of the Foundation can effectively fulfill their missions. These capacities include but are not limited to thoughtful strategies, strong leadership and governance, compelling communications, and sound operations. OE invests in these capacities at several levels, including grants to support individual leaders, organizations, networks, and increasingly for building the capacity of systems. Our belief is that when leaders, organizations, and networks have strong infrastructure, stable staffing, and a diverse toolbox of resources to support their work, they will be better equipped to achieve impact.

Most OE grants support individual organizations or networks. We also provide support through jointly developed capacity building projects for groups of organizations or leaders, which we call Partnership Projects. This post will focus on the individual organization and network projects.

What are some examples of good OE projects? What are we looking for?
Ideally, OE provides support for building the capacity of leaders, organizations, and networks at moments of transformational change, when bringing in outside expertise can foster learning and growth at all levels of the organization or network. Our primary areas of support include:
1) Individual and team leadership: leadership development, management training, executive coaching, executive search/succession planning, and board development.
2) Organizational planning and development: organizational assessment, strategic planning, business planning, fund development planning, strategic communications, evaluation capacity building, and cultural competency/diversity training.
3) Network development: network strategic planning, governance, peer learning communities, and mergers.

When reviewing your letter of inquiry and proposal, OE staff are looking for a good understanding of what the project can deliver, and buy-in and a demonstration that the right people are going to spend time on the work and continue to ensure the ongoing success and implementation of capacity building effort beyond the life of the project.

A terrific use of OE is a project where the deliverables are used by your staff on a regular (for some even daily) basis. For example, an OE grant could pay for an organizational assessment process that helps leadership prioritize areas of challenge and provides a decision-making filter, or a strategy process where the final outcome is a strategic implementation plan and financial model for the organization to use as a three-year guide in its programmatic and fundraising efforts. The right project for your situation will depend on where you and your organization or network are on your journey, and will create significant learning and growth felt and embraced throughout your work.

What isn’t a good OE project? What does OE not fund?
OE is not here to provide support for the “check off the box” strategic planning process because someone said that should happen every 3-5 years. It is also not for hiring a consultant to go raise more money. It isn’t great in a crisis, when you don’t have time to step back and focus carefully on a matter of importance to your organization’s infrastructure. It also isn’t to hire new staff, since the grants are short and the idea is to foster learning and growth that can be continued after the grant ends.

In addition, OE funds do not cover computers or software, rent or other occupancy expenses, website design, financial audits, tuition for degree programs, conference costs, recurring staff training expenses, program evaluations, printing of strategic plans or other reports, or legal fees.

Who can receive OE support?
OE support is limited to current grantees of the Foundation’s main program areas, including Children, Families and Communities, Population and Reproductive Health, Local Grantmaking, and Conservation and Science. Any grantee of those program areas is welcome to submit a letter of inquiry any time – you can find the instructions for that here.

As you can probably imagine, these grants are popular. They are so popular that we cannot meet all of the demand — so unfortunately not every grantee organization that submits a letter of inquiry can receive funding. (The OE team is doing its best to persuade other funders to provide this kind of support, and nonprofits everywhere can help us by letting your other funders know how valuable and impactful these dollars can be.)

We make recommendations for OE support in partnership with program staff, and work hard to ensure that the grants are responsive and highly tailored to the needs of the leaders, organizations, and networks receiving them.

What is the process for an OE request?

  • OE need identified. If you have a specific OE project in mind, you can approach OE directly by submitting a short letter of inquiry (LOI). The short list of questions to answer in your LOI can be found here. If you are not sure if your project would fit in OE guidelines, get in touch with the OE program officer or your primary program officer.
  • LOI is reviewed by both Program and OE. In most cases OE staff will follow up with you to hear more about your project, ask any clarifying questions, and to ensure that the proposed project will accomplish your proposed purpose. Unfortunately, given OE’s limited resources, not all grantees that submit LOI’s are invited to submit proposals, but we’ll do our best and send you to other resources when possible.
  • OE requests a proposal. If a proposal is invited, your organization will be asked to submit several documents, including a short proposal narrative, a detailed workplan from the selected consultant, and a budget. You can find our guidance on the elements of a good consultant workplan here. A big part of this stage is finding the right consultant for your needs – years of grantee feedback have shown that “consultant fit” is one of the most important factors in the success of any OE project. OE will strongly encourage you to interview at least three potential consultants for your project, and to check references for the consultant that you select. A good hiring process includes a team of people from your organization or network, and takes some time. Usually this phase of the process takes at least two months.
  • Proposal submission and funding. In most cases, the appropriate OE Program Officer and Program Associate will coach you through the proposal development and submission process. Once the requested documents are all submitted and agreed upon (and the goals and objectives of the project are re-affirmed), the project is recommended for funding. Note that the approval process usually takes six to eight weeks, which is why a fair amount of advanced planning is required from both the grantee and the foundation. Once a grant is awarded, a final narrative and financial report are scheduled.
  • The project. Once the grant is awarded, you get in touch with your consultant and begin work on the project. There is no need for communication with OE staff during the project period unless you have a significant change of plans (such as a change of consultant or a change in the scope or goals of the project), if you will be unable to complete the work, or if you have a question or concern that OE staff can address.
  •  Final report. When the project is completed, you submit your short final report reflecting on the project – what you gained, what you learned, and any advice you may have for other grantees and the Foundation. Look for upcoming blog posts that advice from previous grantees in this space!

Want to Learn More?
Please visit the How to get Support page on our website or visit the OE Knowledge Center, our curated list of capacity building tools and resources. If you have a specific question, you can reach out us via the OE general inquiries email.

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