Technical Assistance Program Helps Small Health Agencies Improve Administrative Functions and Develops Capacity Building Assessment Tool

From February 2000 through May 2004, a team at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and HealthWorks Consulting, LLC (Princeton Junction, N.J.) administered a pilot project called the Small Agency Building Initiative (SABI).

SABI sought to test the ability of RWJF to improve the business capacities of 19 small, nonprofit, community-based health and social service organizations in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania through targeted technical assistance.

The project focused on building the 19 agencies' capacity to complete projects in areas including fund raising, strategic planning and governance.

Key Results

  • The evaluation team helped SABI staff to establish a methodology, aided in its agency selection, developed an instrument for profiling organizational capacity using a developmental approach, and then evaluated SABI's accomplishments, largely through comparison of changes in the developmental profiles of its 19 participant agencies.

  • he evaluator and two hired consultants also refined and tested a capacity-building assessment tool used in the project, the Staging Organizational Capacity instrument (SOC), and trained two evaluators in its use. The user manual for the SOC evaluation tool should be completed in the fall of 2005.

Key Findings

  • Fourteen of the 19 SABI participant agencies improved their capacity, based on SOC ratings. The evaluator could "reasonably attribute six agencies' improvements directly to SABI," and the capacity improvements in an additional eight grantees were "possibly related to SABI."

  • The evaluation associated technical assistance focused on fund raising, information systems and communications, with the greatest number of improvements in agencies' capacity.

  • In contrast, the evaluation associated technical assistance concerning governance and strategic planning with the fewest number of agency improvements. None of the organizations that received technical assistance for strategic planning saw any improvements in capacity in this area during their involvement with SABI.

    These findings have limited validity, according to the evaluator, but showed "promise for the [SOC] instrument in its formative stage of development." Both the project director and the evaluator concluded that to see full outcomes from capacity-building efforts requires more time for agency change to occur than was available to SABI staff and to those agencies receiving technical assistance.

    Several organizations have expressed interest in the SOC tool; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is considering using it in its program to improve diabetes care at the local and state levels.