In 2019, The Gifford Foundation commissioned an assessment of its flagship capacity building program – ADVANS
We preach the value of self-assessment to all of the organizations we work with. After running the ADVANS capacity building program for more than 13 years and investing nearly $4 million into it, we wanted to properly gauge its impact and effectiveness. In order to avoid bias, we hired an outside firm, 8 Bridges Workshop, to conduct the evaluation. The completion of this report marks the
first time in the Gifford Foundation’s history
that a program evaluation of this nature and
magnitude has been conducted.
Dollars invested in ADVANS
What Did We Learn?
Participants Gained Long-Term Skills and Benefits
Following the ADVANS program, nonprofits reported a greater awareness of their strengths and weaknesses as well as a stronger sense of community among their staff and board. The benefits also extended into their finances, with many nonprofits having grown their budgets and improved their financial health overall.
The Grants Had A Significant Impact on Organizational Growth
Receiving financial support through ADVANS targeted grants allowed for investment in organizational development and other internal growth areas that are normally difficult to secure funding for. Through careful planning, organizations were able to strengthen and grow their operational infrastructure.
ADVANS Consultants Taught New Mindsets and Language
Consultants consistently drove action, working alongside participants to meet difficult goals and undertake in-depth self-assessments. Additionally, teaching the Nonprofit Lifecycles model and vocabulary helped organizations view their work differently and more easily identify areas for improvement.
found the Lifecycle framework and ADVANS tools to be useful in other organizations where they work or volunteer.
“The ADVANS program’s targeted interventions consistently generated significant and often sustained organizational change.”
While the ADVANS evaluation returned a positive review overall, it also identified areas for improvement:
Opening the Application Process
Traditionally, ADVANS participants were invited by the Gifford Foundation to join the program. Gifford staff would evaluate ahead of time which local organizations would benefit most from the process, and then offer them the opportunity to participate.
While the ADVANS evaluators acknowledged the integrity of Gifford’s review process, they felt that it lacked transparency and created a negative perception among some community members. As a result, our new capacity building initiative Embracing Disruption: Resilience Amidst a Changing Environment will have an open enrollment process to allow any interested organization to apply.
Balancing Internal and External Assessments
ADVANS guides participating organizations through an in-depth review of their structure, operations, and mission. While this internal analysis was a required part of the program structure, organizations could choose the extent to which they focused on external challenges and environmental factors.
The Evaluation illuminated the value of focusing more attention on facing external challenges in their assessment, and encouraged us to be more intentional about how we teach nonprofits to adapt to these hurdles. While the future curriculum of ADVANS is still under review, The Gifford Foundation is rolling out a new program designed especially to prepare nonprofits for rapid change and adaptability.
Emphasizing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
The Gifford Foundation has consistently recruited a diverse cohort of nonprofits to participate in the ADVANS program, with a significant percentage being either minority-led and/or focusing on providing services to disadvantaged groups. However, the Evaluation helped underscore the need for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) to be an explicit part of the ADVANS curriculum. In other words, it is not enough for Gifford to simply recruit a diverse group of participants, we must also guide all organizations to incorporate DEI into their internal structure and operations. Consultants from the Nonprofit Lifecycles Institute are already being trained to make this topic more prominent in their teachings.
Finally, some participants raised concerns that the closed application process could act as a barrier and negatively affect diversity within the ADVANS cohort. For that reason, we are moving toward an open application process in our upcoming capacity building program Embracing Disruption.
“ADVANS has had a powerful impact on its program participants. Without question, participants described ways in which seemingly modest grants—as a percentage of their operating budgets—when combined with expert consultant support, resulted in greater mission clarity, fuller organizational alignment, more confidence, and readiness to tackle obstacles and respond to opportunities.”
Read The Complete Report
Access the full ADVANS Evaluation report below, including:
- Introduction from The Gifford Foundation (p. 2)
- Summary and methodological statement (p. 3 – 5)
- History of ADVANS and the Nonprofit Lifecycles Institute structure (p. 6)
- The Lifecycles Program in the Syracuse area (p. 7)
- Analysis of the selection process, consultants, and investment (p. 8 – 10)
- Profiles of select participating organizations (p. 11 – 15)
- Key findings (p. 16 – 21)
- Appendix (p. 22 – 27)
- Credits (p. 28)
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