project type Capacity-Building
client type Advocacy

How the National Council on Aging uses a custom assessment to help develop business capabilities of organizations across the US

It’s increasingly important for community-based organizations to exhibit strong business acumen capabilities (knowledge, skills, and competencies) that drive organizational sustainability alongside programmatic performance. But it’s not always clear where individual organizations are strong, where they have opportunities for improvement, and what assistance they need to increase their chances of success.

Such insights are valuable to entities, such as foundations, advocacy groups, and trade associations interested in developing community-based organizations’ operational wellbeing. So when the National Council on Aging (NCOA) wanted to understand how they could help organizations funded by the US Administration for Community Living (ACL) improve business acumen through their resource centers, they turned to Collaborative Consulting.

The Client

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) was founded in 1950 as the first advocacy organization in the United States dedicated to representing the needs of older Americans to service providers and policymakers. Today, NCOA brings together various organizations, businesses, and government agencies to improve the lives of older adults. NCOA’s work is funded in part by the US Administration for Community Living (ACL) to provide technical assistance and support to community-based organizations across the country that have received ACL grant funds to deliver certain evidence-based wellness programs.

Project Highlights
  • Developed and deployed a custom readiness assessment that provides insights into the capacities and capabilities community-based organizations need to grow, advance their work, and achieve their desired level of impact.
  • Designed and delivered capacity-building programs to participating organizations.
  • The assessment can be redeployed to new grantees as needed while also serving as a progress measurement tool for those that have taken it in the past.
Project Goals

NCOA engaged Collaborative Consulting for our experience in developing and deploying objective and effective organizational assessment tools for health and social sector organizations.

The project focused on:

  • Understanding grantees’ capacities and capabilities relating to business acumen, healthcare partnerships, and network development.
  • Capturing and analyzing organizations’ self-reported data to inform future design of capacity building and technical assistance programs to support grantees’ growth and development.
  • Inspiring grantees to better understand business acumen capability levels, maximize strengths, and address weaknesses.
How We Helped

NCOA engaged Collaborative Consulting to develop a custom assessment — the Business Acumen & Network Development Needs Assessment — with a dual purpose of serving NCOA and recent ACL grantees. On the one hand, the assessment helped the client understand grantees’ levels of involvement and success in healthcare partnerships and coordinated network activities and gauge their needs in leading, participating in, and/or supporting coordinated networks. On the other hand, the results helped identify opportunities for technical assistance and other support needed to help the grantees advance business acumen and participate in and/or lead coordinated CBO networks.

In addition to questions to gauge a grantee’s experience with and interest in CBO networks, the assessment looks at seven capability domain areas that relate to business acumen: leadership, strategy, administration, market intelligence, program management, partnership development, and finance. All seven areas represent core competencies required for successful operation, cross-sector partnership, and multi-stakeholder collaboration.

Thirty-seven grantees submitted an assessment in 2022 and an additional nine completed the assessment in 2023. While scores differ by individual grantee and vary between the two cohorts, one important pattern did emerge: grantees generally lagged in financial acumen and market intelligence.

These findings led us to recommend specific capacity-building initiatives. To bring these initiatives to life, we are working with NCOA to design and deliver a series of learning sessions and tools that will help ACL grantees conduct market research and become more effective at gathering and acting on market intelligence.

Key Outcomes

Our work has helped the NCOA gain insights into the relative capacities and capabilities of several cohorts of organizations over time. Those insights led to the design, development, and delivery of tailored capacity-building programs that aim to improve the capabilities of community-based organizations to partner effectively to better serve older adults.

As capacity-building programs continue for recent grantees, NCOA has an ongoing ability to use the assessment we developed to score new grantees over time.