The journey towards social justice is long and winding. Mission-driven organizations and networks addressing inequality must be strong and resilient, and clear and purposeful in their goals to make progress, adapt to evolving conditions, and surmount the challenges along the way.
Yet, too often, these organizations face constraints that hinder their ability to achieve their goals. Ironically, sometimes these constraints are created by the very funding modalities meant to support them. Restricted funding can prevent organizations and networks from seizing opportunities or adapting to challenging conditions. Overhead rates set by funders are often too low to cover the full costs of programs and projects, thus leading organizations to subsidize their operations with other streams of funding and/or forgo critical organizational investments. Short-term funding curtails planning and contributes to a constant churn to secure new and renewed support. And pressure to prioritize program expenses over organizational and operational needs places undue burdens on systems and people.
What we did
In 2015, we launched our Building Institutions and Networks initiative, better known as BUILD. It’s a $1 billion effort to strengthen institutions and amplify their impact. Since then, BUILD has provided multiyear commitments of general operating support and dedicated funding for institutional strengthening to more than 340 grantees to build more durable, more resilient, and more impactful organizations and networks to combat inequality. We complement that support with additional efforts—including convenings, technical assistance, strategic communications, learning and evaluation, and philanthropic engagement—to complete the BUILD model.
We created BUILD because we believe multiyear flexible funding helps organizations and networks become more resilient to shocks and adaptive to change, thus allowing them to become more effective in achieving their mission. This type of funding provides the latitude to plan, iterate, learn, adapt, and respond to meet long-term goals. It puts grantees in the driver’s seat, enabling them to set their own priorities and make their own decisions on how to best use the BUILD funding.
When we launched BUILD, we saw it as an experiment that we would learn from to improve our role as funders. That’s why we committed to systematic learning, iterative improvement, and sharing findings with funder, nonprofit, and nongovernmental organization stakeholders through a developmental evaluation. In 2017, the BUILD team engaged NIRAS as an external partner to conduct the evaluation. NIRAS utilized both qualitative and quantitative methods to explore if and how BUILD contributes to more resilient organizations and under which contexts. The evaluation also explores how the BUILD model helps create pathways and conditions for impact.
Based on what we learned, we decided to launch a second phase of BUILD in April 2021 with a commitment of an additional $1 billion.
What we learned
Our hypothesis proved right—BUILD works. BUILD’s grant structure—multiyear, unrestricted funding combined with dedicated funding for institutional strengthening—is mutually reinforcing, leads to stronger and more resilient organizations, and creates the pathways and conditions for greater impact. We learned that this grantmaking approach is effective for organizations of all sizes, structures, sectors, geographies, and contexts. Simply put, in the words of our grantees, BUILD is “game-changer.”
Below, we highlight some key takeaways from the BUILD evaluation report. Explore the full report for deeper, more nuanced findings along with a series of case studies.
- BUILD helps organizations become more resilient. Much of the evaluation was conducted under the threats of COVID-19, political unrest and an intense racial reckoning in the United States, and shrinking civic space globally. These conditions provided a real-world pressure test for organizational and network resilience. BUILD grantees made investments in strategic clarity and cohesion; leadership and governance; people, organizational culture and DEI; core capabilities, and strategic partnerships, among other areas. These investments, in turn, contributed to an organization's ability to absorb, withstand, adapt, and respond to shocks and disruptions while staying true to mission.
Moreover, 83% of surveyed grantees reported they were more financially resilient in 2021 than at the start of the BUILD grant. They said that BUILD helped them align their financial resources to programs more effectively and efficiently, become more strategic in their financial management, and build reserves for the future.
- BUILD helps create pathways to achieve impact. Social justice takes time, much longer than the five-year term of a BUILD grant. Nonetheless, the evaluation found rich evidence of how BUILD contributed to short-term outcomes, such as meeting program goals, and created the conditions for impact for the long term. Grantees noted that both the gains in institutional strengthening and the latitude afforded by multiyear flexible funding enabled them to seize opportunities, respond to contextual threats, and implement programs more effectively.
We learned that the path from resilience to impact was not linear, but rather interrelated and mutually reinforcing. Organizations saw their resilience and impact leading to additional investments in institutional strengthening and programs, which then positioned and prepared them to take on greater opportunities and challenges.
- BUILD works for most organizational structures, regardless of size, sector, context and more. The evaluation explored how BUILD worked with different types and structures of organizations and within diverse contexts, ranging from emerging and established organizations, networks and grassroots organizations, institutions led by Indigenous peoples and people of color, organizations undergoing a leadership transition, groups based in the U.S. and in the Global South, and more. Across the board, BUILD grantees were able to put their grants to good use and leverage it for both resilience and effectiveness.
- There is more to learn about the BUILD model—and room to improve. While the evaluation was overwhelmingly positive, it also points out areas for improvement and further learning. Most notably, communicating our plans for after the BUILD grant ends is critical to maintain and preserve the grant’s gains. In their feedback, grantees expressed uncertainty around what happens in terms of funding following the BUILD grant, specifically the level and type of future funding. The evaluation recommends that we work on providing greater clarity and communication around post-BUILD support to maximize and sustain gains.
We plan to engage a longitudinal evaluation in late 2022 that will continue to examine organizational resilience and long-term impact of BUILD grantees over time. You can stay updated by signing up for our newsletter.