< Back to Search

CCF/SCF Tools Delivering Technical Assistance

Published: September 10, 2012
Audience:
Strengthening Communities Fund (SCF), Compassion Capital Fund (CCF)
Category:
Guidance, Policies, Procedures, Tools

Overview

Technical Assistance is one of the most effective methods for building the capacity of an organization.

The process of providing targeted support to an organization with a development need or problem. By including TA in a capacity building project, you make the capacity building much more likely to create change. According to a study published by the University of South Florida, 10 percent of what gets learned in training is applied on the job, while 95 percent of what is coached gets applied on the job.
This lesson will provide you with the foundation to successfully provide targeted support to an organization.

By the end of this lesson you will be able to:

  • Identify the core principles of technical assistance.
  • Recall the phases of a systematic approach to providing technical assistance.
  • Assess an organization’s readiness for change.
  • Deliver targeted support to an organization with a development need or problem.

 

1. Definitions and Core Principles of Technical Assistance

Below are key definitions that will assist you through this lesson.

Technical assistance (TA): The process of providing targeted support to an organization with a development need or problem.

TA provider: The person or organization providing the technical assistance or consulting services.

Beneficiary organization: The organization that is receiving the technical assistance or consulting services.

TA engagement: TA provision that has a well-defined relationship and scope of work. In this lesson, a TA engagement will refer to TA service that is provided over a period of time rather than a request that is answered immediately or through a single interaction.

Indirect technical assistance: When providing indirect technical assistance, the TA provider points a beneficiary organization to media or tools that they can use such as a manual, web-based resource, or a staff member of another organization.

Direct technical assistance: Provide coaching or consulting services, personally applying expertise to their problem or area of need. This can be done onsite, at the location of the organization, or offsite/virtually via telephone, email, or fax.

The core principles of technical assistance will shape your TA engagements.

While each technical assistance engagement will vary in duration, topic, form, and structure, it should be shaped using the following principles:

Collaborative. Work jointly with the organization’s staff to identify underlying needs and long term goals of the capacity building engagement.

Systematic. Use a systematic approach when providing technical assistance, such as the approach outlined in the previous section.

Targeted. Determine what areas of the organization have the greatest need, and where technical assistance will have the greatest impact. Target your efforts on those areas.

Adaptive. As the technical assistance provider, you must remain adaptive throughout the engagement. Be flexible according to the needs of the beneficiary organization.

Customized. Respond to the unique needs of each beneficiary organization by designing and delivering tailored technical assistance engagements.

Asset-based. Organizations, like people, can more easily build on strengths than develop brand new competencies. Every organization has its own unique pool of resources and relationships from which it can draw. Technical assistance should help the organization identify, engage, and leverage the assets that exist.

Accountable. Create a mutual agreement, such as a Memorandum of Understanding, and draft a work plan that outlines specific actions and responsibilities.

Results-driven. Identify measures that indicate improvements in management practices or organizational performance, and track those measures to prove that the TA had real, measurable results.

The tools in this lesson will assist you with the process of developing a system for TA provision and appropriately managing change within a beneficiary organization.

 

2. Request

In the first phase, the leadership of the beneficiary organization makes a request for TA.

A request for TA can develop in a variety of ways. The leadership of the beneficiary organization could submit a proposal asking for large-scale support, approach you in the middle of a TA engagement with an emergency, or call you with an informal question. Regardless of how the request originates, there is key information that can be gleaned and documented from the request:

  • Basic information, such as the organization’s name and date of request.
  • Narrative description of the presenting problem and requested assistance.
  • Preliminary analysis of underlying issues and needs contributing to the presenting problem.
  • TA action necessary to “fix” the problem.

Click below to open interactivity Designing an approach to managing TA requests.

There are three responses you may have to a technical assistance request.

After that information has been gleaned, there are three responses you might have.

1. “Yes, I can help you right now.”

If the request requires little action and can be met within the same conversation, you are providing immediate TA. You might answer their question, look up some information, offer a brochure or a manual, or direct them to a website.

2. “Yes, we can work with you.”

This answer is, in effect, what you say to an organization that you have the resources and the skills and knowledge to assist. If this is your answer, you will move through the remaining phases of this systematic approach to TA.

3. “I’m sorry we can’t help you with that. Some resources that may be able to help you include…”

This is a rejection or a referral. Either way, you are redirecting them away from your TA services. If you are also a training provider, you may refer them to your training calendar. Or there may be another TA provider in your area that can help them.

 

3. Analysis

Most often analysis will be done through an organizational assessment.

An organizational assessment will identify the greatest TA needs of the organization. The assessment should be done collaboratively with the organization, and results should be shared and compared to the original request for support. If the results point to board development as the primary need, but the organization originally requested support in fundraising, work together to determine what the TA engagement will actually focus on. Key information that you are collecting through an organizational assessment includes:

  • Organizational profile. Includes name, contact information, budget, and number of staff and volunteers.
  • Mission and programs. Includes the mission statement, current program activities, and needs of the community.
  • Financial management. Includes accounting procedures, accounting software, financial reporting, and audits.
  • Fundraising. Includes grant writing, diversity in income sources, revenue generating events, earned income, individual donors, and in-kind donations.
  • Legal. Includes awareness of legal requirements, tax-exempt status, and legal counsel.
  • Human Resources. Includes staffing plan, personnel policies and procedures, staff and volunteer management, and systems for evaluating staff performance.
  • Leadership. Includes motivating staff and volunteers, internal promotions.
  • Governance. Includes board orientation, board responsibilities, board meetings and minutes, and culture of the board.
  • Evaluation. Includes program outcomes, data collection processes, and communication of results.
  • Planning. Includes strategic plan, operational plan, business plan, action plans, and organizational goals.
  • Collaboration. Includes establishing and managing partnerships, mergers, referrals, and shared services.
  • Outreach and marketing. Includes public relations, marketing materials, branding, and media outreach.

Click below to open interactivity The Organizational Capacity Assessment tool can help you determine an organization’s greatest TA needs.

Each TA provider has its own assessment methods.

Listed below are several strategies for assessing an organization. Using the strategies below in a collaborative effort with the beneficiary organization will yield the most accurate results, collect both quantitative and qualitative data, identify strengths of an organization in addition to organizational gaps, and build trust and accountability between the TA provider and beneficiary organization.

Organizational Capacity Assessment. An assessment of the organization’s capacity is the most basic element of an organizational assessment. This is often completed as a self-assessment by one or more person(s) within the beneficiary organization, including the executive director, program director, development director, and board chair. This tool will help the TA provider identify baseline performance of the beneficiary organization and provide initial data needed to measure progress through the TA engagement. There are several self-assessments that exist and are ready for use, or you can create your own based on the TA services you are able to provide. See the interactivity above for a sample self-assessment.

Document Review. The TA provider can ask the beneficiary organization to make a host of documents available for review, allowing the TA provider to do their own capacity review and learn about the systems and processes in place within the beneficiary organization.

Site Visit. By visiting the site, the TA provider can see the administrative offices of the beneficiary organization, the program(s) and clients of the organization, and meet with key staff members of the organization. This is a great opportunity to have some informal conversations about the daily operations of the organization and make observations about organizational capacity.

Assessment Interview. If the beneficiary organization lacks organizational awareness, the assessment can be skewed. Capacity builders often refer to this as “you don’t know what you don’t know.” To address organizational awareness issues, the TA provider can conduct a structured assessment interview to assist in determining the current level of organizational capacity.

Leadership Assessment. Because the success of the TA engagement is so dependent on the ability, skills, and attitude of the organization’s leadership, a TA provider should understand how to best support and coach the applicable individuals. This can be done through a formal assessment, a quick checklist of questions, or informal assessment.

The provision of TA is about meeting an organization “where it is.” With this, the TA provider must create an assessment process that accounts for factors such as the organization’s size, culture, and leadership. If you are working with an emerging organization that has little in place to assess, start by asking some critical defining questions about who they are, what they want to do, and what they want to become.

If the TA engagement will continue for a long period of time, address several issues, or demand intensive amounts of time from organizational leadership or the TA provider, it is important to end the analysis phase and launch the next phase with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and/or a work plan identifying each TA action, method of delivery, and person responsible. There is more information about MOUs and work plans in the next chapter on implementation.

 

4. Implementation

From analysis, you launch into the implementation phase, when you actually provide the TA.

At the onset of the implementation phase, it is important to outline a TA engagement through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or work plan. This will ensure that everyone is operating with the same plan and priorities, and that the TA provider has outlined what can realistically be accomplished through the TA engagement. The MOU and/or work plan will be the roadmap used by the TA provider and beneficiary organization

If the engagement is short (lasting only a couple of days) or is around one key issue or problem, it may be that an MOU will suffice for defining the engagement. If the engagement is long-term and/or addresses several issues, a work plan is probably also needed. Use the table below to determine what is appropriate for you.

Elements of MOU                                                                  Elements of Work Plan

Goals for the TA                                                                       Goals for the TA
Role of the TA provider                                                            Intended outcomes of the TA
Responsibilities of the organization receiving TA                     TA activities broken down into actionable steps
Person from each organization who will be accountable           Person responsible for each TA activity
Period of TA engagement                                                         Due date for each TA activity 

Click below to open interactivity A work plan can be a blueprint for your TA engagement.

The TA provider will go through three steps during implementation.

The implementation phase includes the actual delivery of the information and skills that will solve the problem or improve the performance of the organization. In implementation, the TA provider will go through the following steps:

  1. Prepare. Depending on the nature of the TA, skill level of the TA provider, and familiarity with the beneficiary organization, the preparation could be limited or intensive. It could include a review of organizational files, a subject matter review related to the TA topic, practicing the technological platform that will be used for the TA engagement (if it will use technology in some way), preparation of logistics for an onsite visit, and/or the creation of an agenda, PowerPoint slides, handouts, and activities.
  2. Deliver. Delivery of the technical assistance is straightforward if you adequately prepared. Begin by orienting and assessing the people and situation you are presented with, and then assist by delivering the relevant knowledge and skills.
  3. Identify next steps. Use the ideas and energy produced during the TA session and document the next steps to move the process forward. This could be as simple as identifying the “to-dos” of both the TA provider and the beneficiary organization, or it could involve creating an action plan or implementation plan based on the TA provided.

 

5. Evaluation



Evaluating TA services proves your effectiveness and impact, and improves your skills and services.

Evaluation can be done in many ways. You can do a verbal “check-in” onsite immediately following the TA session, it can be done through a web-based survey a few days later, or you can request that the beneficiary organization complete an evaluation form or interview periodically throughout a long-term engagement. See the interactivity for information about low-cost web-based survey platforms, if you choose to use that method. Sample data to collect includes reaction to the TA provider, reaction to the delivery method, knowledge gained, behaviors or practices changed, next steps, areas for improvement, and follow-up TA needed.
Click below to open interactivity A number of low cost online tools provide easy interfaces for building surveys and viewing reports online.


Data should be documented and analyzed, and used to make adjustments to the overall technical assistance plan if necessary.

There are unique challenges to measuring a long-term TA engagement. The goal of TA is to improve efficiency or management practices which in turn allows for expanded or enhanced direct services. But there is not always a clear relationship between TA provided and, for example, additional children served in an after-school program. Below is list of sample indicators of TA success and when you might be able to see or document those indicators.


Short Term Results (1 year or less) - Short term results can be realized at or near the point of execution of technical assistance. Short term results are often simply the outputs of a planned TA activity, such as a strategic plan or an installed financial system. Take care to consider only the indicators that describe a result of the TA activity, rather than the completion of the capacity building activity.
Examples:

Beneficiary organization has begun keeping minutes and attendance of board meetings (as a result of board development).
Beneficiary organization has developed systems to help manage the organization's finances more effectively (as result of technical assistance in accounting).
Beneficiary organization implements a new outreach strategy (as a result of technical assistance in outreach).

Intermediate Term Results (1 to 2 years) - Intermediate term results indicate success in the goal of improving sustainability of the beneficiary organization. The beneficiary organization could begin to show long term results such as expanded social services, but those results will be established with additional time.
Examples:

Beneficiary organization increases the number of volunteer hours contributed by all unpaid staff/volunteers.
Beneficiary organization produces information on program outcomes such as number of clients served.
Beneficiary organization diversifies their revenue sources.
Beneficiary organization increases the amount of funding attracted from grants or contracts from Federal, state, or local sources (amount of funds from grants or contracts).
Beneficiary organization increases the number of clients served.
Beneficiary organization expands services to include a new group of service recipients or geographic area.
Beneficiary organization increases the number of community stakeholders (citizens, organization and government representatives) participating in meetings to coordinate youth activities.

Long Term Results (Over 2 years) - Long term results indicate success in the achievement of the ultimate goal of improving and/or expanding services to clients. Measurement of long term results is helpful as it allows the TA provider and beneficiary organization to “keep their eyes on the prize.” The indicators of these results need to be measured throughout the engagement, so you want to a) select measures for which you can find data and b) get a "baseline" measure or benchmark that will be used to measure future changes.
Long term results will be specific to the program services offered by the beneficiary organization. The examples below are for a youth-serving organization.
Examples:

Increased youth participation in programs that provide for positive youth development. Indicators: # of target youth engaged in programs for       months out of the year, average number of contact hours.
Reduced youth violence. Indicator: # and % of target youth involved in violent crime.
Reduced gang involvement. Indicator: # and % of target youth involved with gangs.
Reduced gun violation arrests and confiscations.
Improved emotional well-being. Indicator: # and % of target youth who showed improved self esteem, personal power, and/or decreased alienation.
Increase social competencies and problem solving skills. Indicator: # and % of target youth with conflict resolution skills.

 

6. Organizational Readiness for Change



There are many ways to measure an organization’s ability to change.

An individual’s and organization’s ability to productively transition through change can be formally and informally measured in many ways. The tools included in this chapter and throughout the interactivities can be used at the beginning of a TA engagement as a stand-alone assessment of readiness-for-change, they can be woven into an existing organizational assessment process, or they can be used throughout a TA engagement to identify barriers and roadblocks of technical assistance. To embed a readiness-for-change assessment into the larger process, you will intersperse questions and observations related to indicators that prove an organization is ready for change.


There are several indicators of change readiness.

Below are several indicators of change readiness. Indicators of change readiness are organizational traits you can look for when reviewing an application, conducting a site visit, or interviewing a board or staff member. Not all of the indicators must be present in order for an organization to be ready for change, but several of them should be.

Mission/Vision/Values

The organization has clear values that define the way they interact with the community and within the organization.
The organization has a vision and mission statement that employees, board members, and all other organizational stakeholders are invested in.
There is a clear plan for growth in a strategic plan or other written document.

Investment of Leadership

The executive director, board of directors, and other leadership is committed and directly involved with the change.

Organizational Alignment

Leadership and staff recognize the need for change.
Leadership and staff mostly agree about what change is needed.
Leadership and staff are prepared to support the change.
There is cross-functional communication; leadership and direct service staff effectively communicate with each other.

Culture and Infrastructure of the Organization

The mood of the organization is optimistic and positive.
Conflict is dealt with openly, with a focus on resolution.
Innovation within the organization is rewarded, and taking risks is allowed.
Infrastructure is flexible and easily adapted to possible role changes in the future.
Leadership is aware of trends in the nonprofit sector, particularly new and emerging practices.

Past Experiences

The organization has had positive experiences with change in the past.
The organization is relatively comfortable with transitions.

Click below to open interactivity The Change Readiness Self-Assessment is a useful tool when conducting an organizational assessment.

 

7. Change Management



It is necessary to continuously define the change with each interaction and with each stakeholder.

Defining the change is started with the organizational assessment and process of defining the goals and outcomes of the TA engagement. With the development of a work plan for TA activities, the change is further defined. To successfully manage the change, however, it is necessary to continuously define the change with each interaction and with each stakeholder that will be impacted.

There are several activities that can help in defining the change. One basic technique is to explore the cause and effect relationship that led to the desired change through the “5 Why's” activity. The activity evolved at Toyota when they expanded their manufacturing methodologies. Toyota believed that by repeating the question "Why?" five times, you can clarify the nature of a problem.

Using the example of board development work from above, a TA provider can use the “5 Why's” activity at the beginning of a meeting to remind board members of the reason for the change. When conducting the organizational assessment, the challenge expressed by board members was that they had too much work to do, while the staff reported lack of follow through as their challenge with the board. The “problem” is the starting place for the activity.

Why-Why-Why-Why-Why

What challenges do you face right now as a board? Too much work!

1. Why do you have too much work? We don’t have enough people on the board.

2. Why don’t you have more people? We haven’t had time to do recruitment.

3. Why haven’t you had time? We haven’t made it a priority.

4. Why hasn’t it been a priority, if it is such a problem? We don’t know how to recruit new people, so it falls to the bottom of the list.

5. Why does it fall to the bottom of the list of things to do? We’d rather do the stuff that we know ho to do.

There is nothing magic about asking five questions rather than four or six; however, experience has shown that five is about the right number to get to the root cause. In the above example, board members are acknowledging their desire to bring on new board members and also their need to understand what work they should prioritize and how to do that work.


TA providers will build a great deal of trust by taking a proactive and learning approach.

In change management, the term “resistance to change” usually encompasses individuals who express varying levels of doubt about the change that is taking place. Maybe they do not agree with the need for change at all, or perhaps they disagree with the methods or decisions that have been made. Resistance is often viewed as something that needs to be overcome and neutralized. While this may sometimes be true, we can adjust our understanding of resistance and make it a more productive experience for all involved. TA providers, who are essentially external change agents, will build a great deal of trust by taking a proactive and learning approach with resistance that they encounter in the engagement.

First, consider that the person implementing has done the best she or he can to gather all the information necessary to make a decision or a change. But no matter how much time someone spends gathering information, that process is never complete. Therefore, a TA provider can view resistance to change as an opportunity to learn more about the culture of the organization and the individuals who are its central players. Listening to the resistors’ concerns can provide opportunities for engagement, and if those concerns are both heard and addressed, then the TA provider is more likely to have a successful engagement.

Finally, remember that not every resistor can be “converted” to a champion for the change. A board member or key staff may have a personal stake in continuing to use old systems and will not change his or her mind no matter how much discussion and coaxing the TA provider tries.


Communication is crucial to the health of any organization, especially one that is undergoing change.

Creating an environment where the beneficiary organization feels comfortable expressing resistance, concerns, or apprehensions as discussed previously. To understand how important this is, consider what happens if there are concerns or fears that aren’t expressed. These issues snowball into hang-ups that prevent the change from occurring because the staff who is supposed to implement the change is dead-set against it, and may even sabotage the effort. Even as the change is continually defined by the TA provider, it is the responsibility of the beneficiary organization to ask questions, express fears, and anticipate challenges of implementing the change within the larger organization. The TA provider needs to be open to and responsive to those questions and comments.

TA providers need to ensure that communication about changes is consistent. The executive director should be in agreement and should use the same language to describe the changes taking place as the TA provider and the board, and anyone else involved in the change. This may seem small, but the way individuals interpret the meaning and impact of a change can vary depending on how the change is described. All stakeholders should agree on what the change is (defining the change) and what the change means for the organization. If one board member sees the change as simply fine-tuning existing systems while the executive director enthusiastically describes the change as revolutionary, mixed messages are inevitable and can be counter-productive to the change efforts.

Finally, TA providers and the staff they are working most closely with should be in constant communication with stakeholders within and external to the beneficiary organization. Updates should be provided whenever decisions are made, and even in between just to say, “we are still working on this issue, and we have not yet reached a resolution.”

 

 Summary



Technical assistance is the process of providing targeted support to a beneficiary organization with a development need or problem.

As a TA provider you increase the likelihood that all of your beneficiaries receive equal treatment and high quality TA by establishing a systematic approach to your technical assistance engagements. This systematic process involves four phases: the request phase, analysis, implementation, and evaluation. Although the process is not always linear, it allows you as the provider to define the development needs and appropriately execute your services.

Not all beneficiaries will be responsive to your services. Change can be an unusual situation and may be met with resistance. Therefore how well a TA provider can assess and manage a beneficiary organization’s willingness to change contributes to the success of a technical assistance engagement.
Thank you for taking the time to learn more about delivering technical assistance.

Please check out the additional resources to meet your TA needs below:

Idealware

Idealware is a nonprofit resource center that provides other nonprofits with “researched, impartial, and accessible resources about software”.