Do’s and Don’ts for Technical Assistance

Here are some points for funders to keep in mind when designing a program of technical assistance for grassroots groups.

Do give the grassroots group the lead role in focusing its assistance.

A group will take action on problems that it recognizes.  If the group doesn’t own the diagnosis it will be halfhearted or grudging in making changes.

Do let grassroots groups choose their own TA providers.

A TA program operator might help a group discover options for assistance; but let the group’s members make the choice.  This will increase their ownership of the TA opportunity, and will exercise organizational capacity in analysis and decision-making.

Do provide opportunities for grassroots groups to mingle with and get to know TA providers.

Groups will be more able to make A choices as they become better acquainted with different providers.  A funder could help this process along by arranging for TA resources to appear in a neighborhoods conference, sharing meetings or workshops.  It could also compile and circulate a director or resource guide.

Do help a neighborhood group address its core problems as well as its first felt needs.

Most commonly, core problems will be faced as a TA relationship grows in trust and familiarity.  Therefore, a funder would do well to encourage (and support) medium-term and longer TA relationships as well as short-term workshops and consultancies.

Do require prospective TA users to name the intended outcomes of their technical assistance in advance.

This will clarify the understanding of the end purpose of the assistance, and help both organization and consultant to be accountable for achieving the desired end result.

Don’t force TA upon a group that doesn’t want it.

A common quandary is when a funder thinks a group needs technical assistance but members of the group don’t share that perception.  In these situations a funder can announce that it won’t fund an organization until specified weaknesses are remedied; and a supportive funder could provide resources to help a group recognize its weaknesses and make changes.  Those resources might include support for a confidential assessment process followed by technical assistance as outlined below.

Don’t “strongly encourage” TA without paying for it.

Don’t force a group to put its projects and programs at risk to pay for TA.  The best capacity growth usually comes through dealing with real-life problems; find ways to enable both technical assistance and project activities to move forward- indeed, to intertwine.

Don’t support only one type of TA, or only one topical focus.

Different groups will grow through different means.  Some will pick up a lot of skills and ideas by attending conferences and workshops.  For others, intensive one-to-one contact will be more important.  And the entire range of project, organizational, community organizing and leadership development concerns are fair game for TA attention.

Don’t expect grassroots groups (or their TA providers) to reveal their core weaknesses to the funder.

It’s crucially important to separate TA functions from grantmaking functions.  The most powerful technical assistance is that which deals with a group’s core weaknesses.  But it’s very risky for a group to reveal all of its warts and weaknesses to someone with the power to influence future funding for the organization.  The stakes are too high.

Roles for funded groups and funders are different from those of TA user and TA provider.  An organization’s core role toward a funder is to convince the funder:  we’re worthy of your support, we’re capable, we’re successful.  With a TA resource, the organization should be able to let its guard down and say: these are our biggest problems, this is where we’re stuck.

A funder’s core role is to determine: are you worthy of my support? Is this the best possible use of my limited grantmaking dollars?  A TA provider should act like a friend and counselor:  I accept you even knowing your faults, and I will do what I can to help you get better.

It’s a big challenge for a funder to prove that she can play both roles: judge/funder, and supportive problem solver.  And a group seeking funding always takes a risk when it steps out of its self-promoting role with a funder.

For this reason it’s rare for a grantmaker to be invited to provide technical assistance , or to get a front-row seat to watch the TA process.  And it’s important for a funder to respect the confidentiality of the TA provider-user relationship.

From “Using Technical Assistance to Strengthen Neighborhood Grants Programs and Neighborhood Organizations” by Rainbow Research.


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