Case Study: Supporting Grantee Capacity-Building


Catalyst:Ed has worked with NewSchools Venture Fund (“NewSchools”) since 2019 to support their Ventures on their capacity building journeys through our Exchange model. Since January 2023, Catalyst:Ed has also been serving as the capacity-building partner for 26 members of the Learning Solutions portfolio. Through this work, we have supported Venture leaders in building capacity in the areas of equity, efficacy, and sustainable growth through the Learning Solutions Exchange (“Exchange”). 

The support to each organization includes: 

  • A diagnostic to identify a high-impact area of focus; 
  • Individualized capacity advising to identify and scope projects to build capacity in the area of focus;
  • Project matching assistance through our diverse and vetted provider network
  • Ongoing project management support for the duration of the engagement. 

This blog shares a summary of our findings and recommendations based on our work with Learning Solutions Venture leaders for philanthropic organizations to consider when planning own capacity-building support for their own grantees.


  • Revenue generation and market/landscape analysis was high on everyone’s list: 85% of Learning Solutions leaders used their consulting wallet to explore ideas for revenue-generating models. In particular, smaller, early stage Learning Solutions organizations were eager to figure out where their brand, pricing, model and budget fit in the wider landscape. As one leader shared, “We [now] have three important assets for our organization: a logic model; theory of change and pitch deck.”
  • High-quality, tailored support made all the difference: Access to a vetted, high-quality network of providers to choose from was crucial to leaders finding the right fit for their needs. When asked about conversations and collaboration with providers, one Learning Solutions leader offered the following: [The providers] had a fantastic process of getting to know our organization, our needs, our wants, and our team. They also have a unique way of making me feel empowered to take the necessary next steps to move our organization in a more sustainable direction. Their work was very detailed and immaculate. I look forward to every meeting with them because they create a space for me to be vulnerable and honest.”
  • Even leaders, but especially new leaders, needed coaching: Whether new to nonprofits or new to leadership, or both, we found that some leaders needed help getting started with anything ranging from communication with the providers, set-up support for initial meetings, identifying next steps, or establishing the focus for strategic conversations. In those instances we often offered coaching, coordination and perspective to leaders unfamiliar with leveraging outside support for their strategic priorities. 


Support capacity-building efforts for mission critical work that includes dedicated dollars to engage with providers and access to a wide-range of providers.

Especially in today’s uncertain economic climate, it’s hard for leaders to convince themselves to use existing funds towards this type of work when they might feel it puts them and their organization in a precarious position. If organizations are going to invest in capacity-building support, they need dedicated dollars, agency to decide what to use the dollars for, and access to a vetted provider network (like the Catalyst:Ed network), thereby demystifying the question of “who’s out there?” when it comes to finding expert, equity-oriented providers. 

Encourage grantees to strengthen their commitment to equity in their mission-critical work. 

In what’s a pretty common way of viewing things, many Venture leaders saw their equity work as binary and independent they were either working on equity or working on something else and would “get back to” equity later. When stating that the greater or current need were things like pricing models or marketing materials, these were seen as existing outside of equity application or concerns. When conducting scoping calls with Venture leaders and organizations, Catalyst:Ed pushed grantees to see that equity isn’t time- or project-bound; it’s an orientation that should inform all their work. It’s also often in those conversations that leaders would share that aspects of equity were still on their minds when it came to appropriately pricing products and having inclusive POVs when it came to their marketing. However, this is implicit in nature and we believe, with the support and guidance of their program officers, this can be more explicit in all of their work, not just when focusing on their equity goal.

Coach grantees on how to best utilize providers.

Many of the Venture leaders we worked with had not previously worked with external providers. Even when some were previously providers themselves, being on the client side was new for them. When issues were uncovered through the mid-project feedback and reflection form, they mostly revolved around poor communication practices, unclear expectations, and hesitation around providing feedback. We recommend that funders think about how they can ensure that their grantees get clear about what they want and need out of project, what they expect out of providers, and how they might adopt practices and norms that set up project work for success (e.g., ways to ensure that communication practices are agreed upon, expectations are understood, and space is made to give and receive routine feedback). 


Finding the resources and time to invest in finding and developing sustainability tools feels like it’s stuck somewhere between “not now” and “impossible” for most places and leaders. If leaders are going to strengthen their organizations, they need financial and talent resources to make that happen, and that need is a place where philanthropy can provide some critical support. But the need to access and resources to identify and pursue capacity-building projects also comes with some considerations: equity needs to be seen and stressed as integral to any sustainability conversations, products and projects; leaders might be new to working with providers and that working relationship will occasionally require navigating feedback, setbacks and project dynamics.

We would like to thank our Program Officers, Lacey Allen and Cameron White, for their partnership and support throughout this engagement.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *