Improving Practice through Non-Instructional Technology Platforms: A Case for Technology's Role in a Nonprofit Network

Improving Practice through Non-Instructional Technology Platforms: A Case for Technology's Role in a Nonprofit Network

Allison M. Bell (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA), Andrea Leigh Hernandez (Antioch University, USA) and Wenhao David Huang (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 37
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8330-3.ch006


This case study describes the processes and outcomes of intentional efforts to formalize and enable learning, communication, and collaboration in a network of nonprofit practitioners to enhance the capacity and effectiveness of member organizations. After identifying a need for nonprofits in Central Illinois to have increased awareness of others' efforts and work together to a greater extent, a technology-enabled Community of Practice (CoP) was formed to facilitate positive change. After a short period of implementation, an evaluation found that the virtual CoP was valued by members as an important source of learning, networking, and finding resources. Further, intentional efforts to facilitate nonprofit network activities and productivity led to meaningful outcomes in this community and members' performance. This case study serves as a non-instructional Human Performance Technology (HPT) example for consideration by organizations seeking to support informal learning among nonprofit employees and stakeholders in order to improve and sustain members' performance.
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Setting The Stage

As one of the larger foundations outside of the Chicago region, the Foundation realized that in order to make the most impact with their grant dollars, they needed to support capacity building efforts for their nonprofit grantees. Their theory of change was that a vibrant nonprofit sector was one where 1) nonprofits communicate, cooperate, and collaborate, 2) nonprofits have strong management, leadership, and governance, and 3) nonprofits are supported by an invested constituency.

The Foundation recognized the lack of affordable and appropriate professional and organizational development services in the region for nonprofits, including their grantees. In response, they founded the Nonprofit Excellence Program (NEP). Through the NEP, the Foundation offered trainings, conferences, and grants around areas related to nonprofit organizational leadership and development. As a grantmaking entity, however, they did not envision providing direct services for an extended period. The Foundation’s intention from the outset had been to build a program whose value would be evident enough that a community partner could be attracted to take on the role of service-provider. After a few years of financially supporting and organizing these efforts internally, the Foundation turned its attention to this transition. They retained a consultant to determine how the NEP could be effectively embedded in the community.

The consultant recommended the creation of a nonprofit resource center to be located at a local university and endowed by the Foundation. Although the recommendation aligned with the Foundation’s early expectations for the transition, the Foundation reached a different conclusion from the consultant’s findings. The Foundation’s board concluded that a focused investment in a single institution overvalued the underlying interest of the local university and failed to fully appreciate the resources and geographic reach of other organizations in the region that had started to provide capacity building services since the NEP was established. An alternative solution was desired that would better align with the Foundation’s theory of change.

Four key concepts and trends converged to inform how the Foundation progressed toward their goal of achieving a vibrant nonprofit sector: 1) capacity building, 2) networked governance, 3) nonprofit collaboration, and 4) networked community of practice, shown in Figure 1. Each concept contributes to nonprofit effectiveness and influenced how the Foundation and their partners thought and acted as the project progressed.

Figure 1.

Nonprofit effectiveness performance opportunities

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