October 1, 2006
Five years ago, The Forbes Funds provided support for a new research series exploring challenges and strategic opportunities in nonprofit management in the Pittsburgh region.The intention of this research was to determine what works in strengthening nonprofits' organizational capacity and management abilities, as well as what may be the barriers or service gaps in building nonprofit capacity. As part of this research series, in 2004,The Forbes Funds commissioned Judith L. Millesen, at Ohio University, and Angela L. Bies, at Texas A&M University, to conduct a comprehensive analysis of Pittsburgh's capacity-building "industry." This "Pittsburgh study" offered detailed findings about the degree to which Pittsburgh's "industry of consultants, firms, management support organizations, and academic centers offer accessible, quality services to the 1,600 nonprofit organizations in Allegheny County."1 With ongoing support from The Forbes Funds, Drs. Bies and Millesen also conducted continuing analyses during 2005, which explored the incentive to engage in capacity building (Millesen & Bies, 2005) and the role of 'learning' in building nonprofit performance (Bies & Millesen, 2005).During 2005-06, a replication study was conducted in and around Austin,Texas.2 A key purpose of the study was to help afford a comparative analysis of the nonprofit sectors in two metropolitan regions with differing environments, economies, and capacity-building industries. With support from The Forbes Funds, the Bremer Foundation, and the Minnesota Council on Nonprofits, a third replication study is planned for 2006-07 in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.The Texas replication study shared the Pittsburgh study's focus on understanding the characteristics of effective capacity-building initiatives through an examination of a series of questions related to who (the capacity builders) is doing what (the kinds of support services provided) for whom (what types of nonprofits are engaging in capacity-building initiatives) and to what end (whether capacity-building initiatives produce desired organizational change).The core research purpose remained to describe and analyze several aspects of the capacity-building environment, including the quantity, accessibility, and quality of capacity building services, characteristics of effective capacity building, and challenges and barriers to implementing capacity-building interventions. Both the Austin study and the Pittsburgh study offered implications for practice and suggested directions for future research into capacity building's effectiveness and influence in the sector.