1997 Two consultants approached Vitalyst with a unique idea: collectively meeting the organizational development and capacity building needs (such as fundraising, board development, volunteer management, etc.) of many small- and mid-sized nonprofits. Organizations that couldn’t afford the luxury of a paid consultant would self-select into learning groups. Each team would be matched up with a consultant who had expertise in the subject area, and they would get better together.
1998-2013 What was a “flier” for everyone involved ironically crystallized into the long-running and immensely popular Technical Assistance Partnership (TAP). Hundreds of nonprofits participated. Quite a few rotated leadership and staff into the program. A capstone publication was produced to document our learnings.
TAP became an invaluable source of connection and learning for participants, consultants and Vitalyst. Each stakeholder challenged the other through feedback, newly discovered capacities, and the re-invention that is required to keep the larger learning circle vibrant.
The impact was broad. The learning that came from serving a diverse group of people and organizations was instrumental. TAP’s first 16 years served as both a cornerstone and a trigger: as the capacity building landscape changed, so did we.
2013-present TAP’s team-based collaborative learning found its next level of purpose and has been rechristened the Change Agent Network (CAN). Strategic alignment and intent factor significantly into each CAN Forum and each six-month CAN Learning Circle dedicated to policy and systems change. Annual cohorts of Agents of Community Transformation (ACT) Fellows – who collaboratively strengthen consulting and facilitation skills using collective impact and asset-based strategies – provide the critical presence to steward coalitions, deliver wrap-around consulting, and reimagine policies and systems.
The essential functions of organizational capacity building are now the exclusive domain of the Technical Assistance Partnership of Arizona (TAPAZ), our comprehensive fiscal sponsorship program. Established in 2013, TAPAZ currently facilitates 29 active projects with a combined $1.2 million annual budget. High quality fiscal and back-office functions like payroll, accounting, and grant reporting are the tip of an iceberg that includes one-on-one mentoring designed to create independently operating, sustainable organizations.
WHAT WE’VE LEARNED IN 20 YEARS: Facilitation is Worth It
The clearest lesson is this: the opportunities that come through collaboration are too important to squander. And that means capacity building technical assistance is just what the doctor ordered.
The work carries with it all the challenges and tensions that arise when people work in groups – structure, legal issues, financial considerations, ownership, accountability, control, commitment, flexibility, culture, politics and more. Thoughtful facilitation, mentoring and assistance can navigate and moderate them all. People have the power to inform, connect and support each other in delightfully effective ways.
THE ROAD TO SUCCESS IS ALWAYS UNDER CONSTRUCTION. —Arnold Palmer
Learn more about Community Capacity Building efforts over the past 20 years: