Capacity Building For Nonprofits

Ronnie Gomez

You’ve probably heard the term “capacity building” in the past. It’s usually paired with other fun, punchy phrases like “do more” and “make an impact”. But what exactly does it mean?

If you’re not sure, you’re not alone. The term’s popularity has inadvertently watered down its meaning, causing a big lack of clarity from an execution standpoint. Still, when done well, capacity building can be transformative for an organization. It can fuel the growth needed to serve even more constituents — and to us, that’s a pretty big deal.

That’s why we’re breaking down one of the nonprofit industry biggest buzzwords: capacity building.

What is Capacity Building?

Most simply put, capacity building is the process of increasing a nonprofit organization’s ability to fulfill its mission. Chances are, your organization is currently undertaking some capacity building efforts today. Here’s what it might look like:

Anything that optimizes or improves your organizational operations builds capacity. And because nothing can ever be perfect, the work is never truly done. Even the best nonprofits could still use some fine-tuning!

Developing a Capacity Building Strategy for Your Nonprofit

There are a lot of different ways for organizations to build capacity, So many, it can actually make it difficult to figure out which is the best option for your nonprofit. Still, there are methods to making the most informed decision possible.

Use this step-by-step process to eliminate some of the guesswork and choose a capacity building method that meets your organization’s most pressing needs,

Step One: Assess Your Needs

You could probably name your organization’s biggest need at the drop of a hat. But would other staff members answer the same way?

In order to develop the most impactful capacity building strategy, you need to involve as many staff members as possible. Everyone at your organization has a unique day-to-day experience, which means they can provide you with additional perspectives that you may not have previously considered.

Let your coworkers know that you’re taking a serious look into what capacity building would mean for your organization, and set up a quick meeting. If staff members are crunched for time as it is, send out a survey. Just remember to set it up as an open-ended question so people can answer in their own words,

Step Two: Assess Your Resources

Once you’ve compiled a list of your organization’s most pressing needs, it’s time to evaluate. Often times, you’ll find that multiple needs stem from the same root cause. You also may find that some needs can be met with existing resources or free tools.

Everyone will see their need as the most pressing, so it’s important to make these decisions in a fair, unbiased way. Consult leadership throughout your evaluation process where possible, and submit your findings with multiple options for next steps.  

Step Three: Develop Your Strategy

Choosing your capacity building technique largely relies on resources like time and funding. You may not be able to take the biggest step right away, but at least now, the process and its benefits are on the radar of your leadership team.

Smaller steps, like internal workshops or professional development plans, can be developed with a modest time expense and little to no additional costs. Many online nonprofit resources offer ebooks and templates for free. Do some light searching for a few that fit your end goal and use them to develop a tailored plan for your organization.

If you found the best way for your organization to build capacity requires a larger investment, take this time to do some research on your options. For example, if you’re looking to invest in a fundraising software, it’s better to go into any sales conversations prepped with your own research.

Step Four: Monitor for Progress and Road Blocks

The implementation of a capacity-building strategy is pretty similar to the implementation of a fundraising strategy — you need to keep an eye on it to make sure everything is going smoothly.

Schedule check-ins throughout the process where appropriate, and take notes on what is working well and what could be improved upon. This will provide guidance to additional capacity building efforts down the line.

Now it’s time to get started!

A solid capacity building strategy can bring your organization (and its mission!) to new heights.

Want more insights on building capacity at your nonprofit? Check out our Nonprofit Leadership Toolkit. Inside, you’ll find tips on how to tackle some of the most pressing problems facing nonprofit professionals today. Download it here!

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