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Peer Learning Community Programs

Peer Learning Community Programs: Cost-Effective Capacity Building for Nonprofits

Catherine Marshall, Capbuilders

First published November 2017

Are you responsible for capacity-building programs? Do you search for cost-effective ways to help your clients achieve their goals? People who provide services to help individuals or organizations improve and grow may find it difficult to design a program that is both effective and cost efficient to deliver. Traditional methods such as workshops, conferences, and counseling are helpful, but they come with limitations:

• They can be expensive to deliver, and if the costs are passed on to the client, that can limit participation.

• Keeping a client on track with the change effort is difficult.

• Everyone may have the best of intentions after attending a training or getting advice from a consultant, but fi nding a way to take what was learned and put it into action continues to challenge us all.

When I was the CEO of a state association of nonprofi ts, I researched a number of methods to help my member organizations grow and improve. Building the capacity of these nonprofits was critical: if they were unable to meet the demand for services or show effectiveness, they would lose their funding. When I discovered the concept of peer learning, I set about experimenting with a program design that blended training, technical assistance, and shared learning. Later, as technology improved, I employed web-based teleconferencing to increase the accessibility of the program.

I called the resulting method Peer Learning Community Programs and have been using some version of these programs for more than seventeen years, mostly with the nonprofi t organizations I work with in my consulting practice.

For the past decade, I have helped foundations, collaboratives, and associations design and launch their own Peer Learning Community Programs tailored to their constituents. This document is my effort to share what I learned works, and doesn’t work, with this method and to provide a practical program model as a place to start.

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