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Research Partnership Shows Impact of Capacity-Building Grants

Watering a plant

Providing a local foundation with a meaningful evaluation while engaging in significant research is just the kind of project that Lewis Faulk enjoys.

Faulk, an AU School of Public Affairs (SPA) associate professor, worked with Mandi Stewart, SPA/PhD '15 and now an assistant professor at North Carolina State University, to analyze 15 years of data for 400 organizations that applied for grants from the Meyer Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Their findings were published in a recent article, “As You Sow, so Shall You Reap? Evaluating if Targeted Financial Capacity-Building Improves Nonprofit Financial Growth,” in Nonprofit Management and Leadership.

Years of short-term, subjective feedback about the positive impact of the foundation’s work were affirmed by the empirical research that Faulk and Stewart conducted. By matching longitudinal grant data with financial information from the nonprofits’ 990 tax-exempt forms, the study revealed that capacity-building grants indeed contributed to organizations’ financial growth. Interestingly, the receipt of a financial capacity-focused grant had a positive impact — but no more than other types of capacity-building grants, such as those focused on board or leadership capacity development.

“It was a perfect collaboration. The foundation systematically collected the data over time and documented it well,” Faulk said. “The results were encouraging. We were really able to identify the impact and objective growth from all capacity-building grants. But there was not any additional benefit from a financial-targeted grant.”

The findings were useful to the Meyer Foundation, which called the examination one of the most comprehensive reviews of its work and a “groundbreaking” study.

The study examined the long-term impact of one foundation program, but Faulk noted the program design is consistent with other foundation capacity-building programs, so similar outcomes could be expected elsewhere. “I particularly enjoy working with organizations when we produce something that contributes to scholarly research and has a practical impact,” Faulk said.