National Program Office Core Competencies
The NPO was successful in designing, implementing, and managing a large grant program by employing strategies similar to those used by startups. The AF4Q offers many lessons for the nonprofit world on the subjects of managing grant-funded projects. Any nonprofit coordinating entity should have the capacity to fulfill the following core competencies.
The NPO developed substantive knowledge of community environment, capacity, and performance. This comprehensive market awareness obliged three distinct roles for staff: coach, enforcer, and informer.
Coach: A designated team worked with the 16 AF4Q Alliances individually and collectively, with staff assigned to communities and programmatic content areas. As colleagues and coaches, NPO staff developed trusting relationships with each community, as well as understanding of each specific marketplace. NPO and Alliance staff collaborated on efforts to engage stakeholders and identify helpful technical assistance (TA).
Enforcer: The NPO simultaneously ensured that communities were advancing in their efforts to achieve programmatic expectations. Staff continuously monitored and assessed progress towards these goals and stepped up as enforcer when necessary. NPO staff provided consultation time, recommendations for and facilitation of technical assistance, and, sometimes, initiated Foundation intervention.
Informer: The NPO informed the Foundation of programmatic progress and challenges. Frequent dialogue with the Foundation ensured that Foundation staff was aware of community progress, and increased levels of flexibility and trust necessary to successfully administer AF4Q.
From the outset, the NPO recognized the need for a robust and flexible internal infrastructure. Designing and maintaining this infrastructure meant that the NPO was a communicator, convener, and coordinator.
Communicator: The NPO communications team directed and managed both internal and external communications, including website and social media management, and publications/products. Strategic external communication mechanisms allowed for community leadership engagement and involvement, as well as facilitation of cross-site learning.
Convener: The NPO planned and ran multiple in-person meetings for community staff and stakeholders. Face-to-face interaction was an invaluable aspect of the program. Meetings allowed for the development of deep connections among people and real movement on programmatic goals.
Coordinator: The NPO coordinated interactions between multiple AF4Q delegations, including community staff and stakeholders, technical assistance providers, Foundation staff, and external stakeholders. These relationships required a strategic approach in order to maintain strong ties.
Flexibility is important for contracts, office management, and human resources. The ability to be nimble in terms of office operations was a key tenet of the NPO given the breadth and depth of AF4Q.
Contractor: The scale and duration of AF4Q funding necessitated the NPO becoming proficient in directing, executing, and managing contracts. The comprehensive approach to handling contract flow involved multiple NPO staff, financial and programmatic considerations, and a collaborative decision-making process that required strategic structuring of NPO teams.
Leader: NPO leadership recognized the need to be nimble and visionary, and was cognizant of the importance of dedicated staff to carry out its functions given the duration and size of AF4Q. The NPO made strategic decisions about what to handle in house (i.e. “make”) and what to outsource (i.e. “buy”).
Cultivator: The complex and innovative nature of AF4Q necessitated a talented, diverse, and team-oriented staff. The NPO cultivated a collaborative culture and developed deep bench strength. A high level of investment in staff contributed to the NPO’s organizational capacity and its ability to implement Foundation’s vision.