“Stop Swabbing Those Decks and Get Into the Crow’s Nest!”

The Dodge Technical Assistance Initiative

Perhaps this sounds familiar: you lead a nonprofit whose mission you passionately believe in, but you don’t have the money, staff, board support, or the time to accomplish all of the great ideas you want to implement. How do you grow and thrive, rather than simply survive? The Dodge Foundation’s answer lies in its comprehensive Technical Assistance (TA) initiative.

“We believe that our nonprofit leaders have to stop swabbing the decks and get into the crow’s nest for a better, bigger view,” says Program Officer Wendy Liscow, who leads the Technical Assistance program for Dodge.

Simply put: foundations can help protect and maximize their investments in nonprofits by ensuring the organizational strength of their grantees. Dodge’s approach is to target the common weaknesses (in particular, the lack of board leadership and communications planning) we see throughout the whole sector rather than to address the individual needs of any one grantee.

What We Do Differently

How is Dodge’s Technical Assistance unique? Many foundations offer grants for strategic planning without considering whether a nonprofit is even ready to begin a strategic plan. We believe that organizations need to spend time meaningfully reflecting, assessing and learning before jumping into the planning phase. We provide a series of sequential workshops, which require an organization’s decision makers to attend (executive directors as well as board members). We begin our work with a discussion about nonprofit lifecycles to provide invaluable context for the work. We see a paradigm shift when grantees understand they are not alone with their challenges. In fact, every nonprofit has to go through similar growing pains. This simple knowledge is so freeing. The blame game dissolves and everyone just focuses on the work ahead.

We also offer follow up and emergency consulting services throughout the process, and we facilitate monthly group “learning circle” discussions for participants to share their knowledge and lessons learned on a continuing basis.

Grantees who successfully complete the requirements of the TA program or initiate other capacity building efforts identified through attending the workshop series then become eligible for matching grants to help them develop formal strategic and marketing plans.

Measuring What Matters

Underlying Dodge’s Technical Assistance initiative is the belief that foundations should not judge or impose their will on grantees. We encourage them to make careful, honest assessments of their strength and weaknesses and measure what matters most to them, not to us. Our role is to help them protect the time to reflect, and to give them the professional tools and opportunities to learn.

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