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2015 Grantor Grantee Dialogue: Reflections on Building Capacity Together

Monday, March 2, 2015
Houston, January 28
The Simmons foundation’s work in the capacity building arena began organically. While out on site visits we saw and heard needs that were preventing grantees from taking their work to new heights. When we asked the tough questions about sustainability and governance, it was clear that smaller organizations were struggling to find funding that would support the time it would take to properly implement systems for change.  We decided to seize this as an opportunity to work with a small cohort of grantees at a deeper level.    
For the past two years, The Simmons Foundation has made grants to four organizations to strengthen their organizational capabilities. Selected organizations have annual budgets under $500,000 and underwent an organizational assessment conducted by the United Way of Greater Houston. The capacity-building projects the foundation supported each addressed at least one area identified on the organizational assessment as being in need of improvement.
Philanthropy Southwest’s recent Grantor/Grantee Dialogue on board development offered a timely opportunity to build on our initial support. We sponsored our capacity-building grantees to attend the dialogue with us. We sat together as a team and took in a lot of great information about board diversity, skillsets, planning and change. The session highlighted three main points:
Board members need training and mentorship (especially board newbies)
Boards need diversity of race, age, gender and experience
Bylaws, policies and procedures are living documents that should be updated as needed.
In our debriefing following the dialogue, our grantees offered some valuable take-aways, including:
“I learned that we cause a lot of the problems on our board by not training our board members. We expect them to do a job but do not take time to teach them. This is a problem we can solve!”  
“Hearing about the trends in board processes and organizations and clear-cut recommendations that are correlated with effectiveness was invaluable and very exciting. The light bulbs were going off in my head left and right with ideas about how my board and I could implement new, more-effective ways of working together.”  
“The presentation rejuvenated me to have more excitement in keeping my board engaged. Before this workshop, I was somewhat struggling with who was responsible for helping to establish a healthy and effective board. I really felt like it should not fall on the Executive Director (me), but now I know it is a shared role. For some reason, hearing that in this setting, made it all okay with me.” 
“The best takeaway of the event was when Dr. Renz said ‘People don’t resist change. They resist BEING changed.’ This is an enlightening view. Instead of telling your board ‘this is what needs to change,’ we can ask ‘How are our clients’ needs changing?’ and ‘What is required to meet the changing need?’ This allows everyone to rise to the occasion.”
NAMI Gulf Coast (
We relished the opportunity to engage deeply with our grantees. Thank you to Philanthropy Southwest and the United Way of Greater Houston for providing such a valuable platform for continued learning.
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