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What makes capacity building effective?

 

Capacity building is about investing in people.

It may be stating the obvious, but nonprofits are comprised of people – people with skills, expertise, and experience. Capacity building activities that improve an organization’s ability to achieve its mission necessarily involve the staff of the organization. Consequently, staff and board training to improve skills, evaluate gaps, evaluate needed policies and procedures, plan for the future, improve collaborative practices, and utilize new technologies, are all examples of capacity building.

Investing in leadership is an example of effective capacity building:

Leadership as an indicator of capacity and sustainability

Leadership training for a nonprofit’s staff and board leadership is a prime example of critical capacity building activities. Coaching, peer-to-peer learning, cohort-based trainings, communities of practice, and  "learning circles” are different models used to build the capacity of an organization’s leadership. 

Strongly Led, Under- Managed: How Can Visionary Nonprofits Make the Critical Transition to Stronger Management, (Daniel Stid and Jeffrey L. Bradach, Bridgespan) explains the tension between strong leadership and strong management.

Case Studies in Capacity Building

  • An Analysis of Capacity Building in the Mid-Ohio Valley McDonough Center, Marietta College (2009), an in-depth analysis of the capacity building opportunities and challenges for nonprofits in a specific region. The report reviews what the barriers to capacity building are and offers recommendations for action including funding assistance and specific trainings to help build the capacity of the nonprofits.

Capacity for specific functions, such as evaluating a nonprofit's effectiveness, may require specific types of training or tools. Read about what it takes to successfully build the capacity of a nonprofit to measure and manage performance outcomes. (Bridgespan)

Read about capacity building for advocacy and capacity building for planning.

 

What are Examples of Effective Capacity Building Efforts?

This section describes specific capacity building projects and includes links to research and reports, links to the National Council’s resources on raising public awareness, “Telling Your Story,” where you can upload your own examples of successful capacity building projects and read about how capacity building makes a difference.

 

Partner with Government: governments are frequent partners with nonprofits for the delivery of essential services in our communities. Increasingly, governments are recognizing that helping to build the capacity of nonprofits is a critical step in the process of successful service delivery to local communities.

  • Read a report about the 2008 Capacity Building Initiative of the Maryland Howard County Department of Citizen Services that was designed to (1) strengthen the system of service delivery within Howard County for low income and foreign-born individuals and families, and (2) provide capacity building to strengthen key nonprofit organizations serving low-income and foreign-born communities.

 

Is capacity building about building an organization’s capacity, or building the capacity of its staff? It may be stating the obvious, but nonprofits are comprised of people – people with skills, expertise, and experience. Capacity building activities that improve an organization’s ability to achieve its mission are necessary activities that involve the staff of the organization in some way. Consequently, staff and board training to improve skills, evaluate gaps, implement needed policies and procedures, bolster efficiencies, and utilize new technologies, are all examples of capacity building activities.

 

Leadership as an indicator of capacity and sustainability: leadership training for a nonprofit’s staff and board leadership is a prime example of critical capacity building activities.

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    • a clearly articulated and communicated mission and vision statement

    • strong financial management systems

    • active and long-term relationships with funders

    • adaptability, a willingness to be flexible when needed

 

Case Studies in Capacity Building:-

  • An Analysis of Capacity Building in the Mid-Ohio Valley [link to pdf in folder] McDonough Center, Marietta College (2009), an in-depth analysis of the capacity building opportunities and challenges for nonprofits in a specific region. The report reviews what the barriers to capacity building are and offers recommendations for action including funding assistance and specific trainings to help build the capacity of the nonprofits.

  • Capacity Building for Nonprofits: A Hartford Example [link to pdf in folder] TCC Group (2008), gives excellent examples of how conducting an assessment of several groups’ core capacities and investments in which their capacity was challenged resulted in transformational outcomes.

  • A report prepared for the Lumpkin Family Foundation, Nonprofit Capacity and Community Building in Central Illinois,[link to pdf in folder] (2006), describing the experience of one private foundation’s capacity building programs.

  • Lessons learned: Funders Little Shop of Horrors – Misguided Attempts at Nonprofit Capacity Building Foundation News and Commentary (2005).

  • Capacity building can leverage other changes in an organization as described in An Analysis of the Pittsburgh Region’s Capacity-Building Industry: Who is Doing What for Whom and to What End, [link to pdf: Pittsburgh Region….. in folder] a report by the Forbes Funds (2004), identifies barriers to effective capacity building as well as factors leading to leveraging capacity building into organizational change.

 

Capacity Building for Planning:

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        • Succession planning: Some nonprofits have strong programs and activities but no leadership succession plan. For a nonprofit in that position, succession planning is key to protecting and prolonging its effectiveness, and thus is a critical step in its capacity building journey. For more on board and staff succession planning, visit the National Council’s resources on Leadership. [link to Leadership section]

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        • Capital projects: More room means more capacity, right? Actually, perhaps not. Before launching a building expansion or planning for a capital campaign project, make sure your nonprofit has the needed capacity to bring the project to fruition and sustain the expansion responsibly. Review this detailed planning guide, Facility Expansion & Renovation Planning for Capital Projects and Campaigns, [link to pdf in folder] that provides guidance on keeping capital projects on track.

        • Strategic Planning: No one has a crystal ball, but we do know that sustainability takes more than simply coming up with a strategic plan every few years. Helping your board constantly scan the horizon for future trends is an example of capacity building. Share this report with them: Convergence – How Five Trends Will Reshape the Social Sector, by Lapiana Consulting (2009), for the James Irvine Foundation, that will convince you that all nonprofit leaders (and funders) need to keep their eyes on future trends.

          • Before launching into any future planning, review Lessons Learned: A Planning Toolsite offered by the National Endowment for the Arts, offers comprehensive guidance on planning from NEA’s experience administering planning grants for arts organizations.

        • Fund development planning: Many nonprofits struggle to prioritize activities because of limited resources. For such nonprofits, engaging a consultant for assistance designing a fund development plan, or exposing board members to training that raises their awareness about how critical it is for boards to become involved in fundraising, could make all the difference in catapulting that nonprofit into a position to make a powerful impact.

        • Business Plans: Every nonprofit needs a business plan to articulate how its revenue and expenses will result in sustainable operations. Thinking through ‘what if’ scenarios and adopting a business plan that addresses financial contingencies is an example of capacity building.

        • Review of mission: Every few years it is appropriate for a nonprofit’s board to review the mission. “Are we still focused on what our mission describes?” “Have we strayed?” Perhaps the mission should be changed?

          • Read Mission Possible: Improving Your Organization’s Mission Statement [link to pdf] for tips on how to tackle the task of reviewing your nonprofit’s mission.

 

Capacity building is most commonly pursued through training for staff and board leaders, but can also be achieved by partnering and networking in innovative ways such as through collaborations between funders, government, and nonprofits. Capacities building training, networking and referrals to consultants are regularly provided by state associations of nonprofits [link to Find Your State Association]. Joining your state association of nonprofits offers your board and staff exposure to new ideas and proven solutions, ‘best practices,’ and a cohort group at-the-ready to learn from.

 

More information:

  • Tools for Capacity Building

  • See Capacity Building in a New Light

  • Where Can a Nonprofit find Capacity Building Assistance?

  • How Can we Evaluate Capacity Building Efforts?

  • Who Funds Capacity Building