[custom_frame_left shadow=”on”][/custom_frame_left] There’s a growing national conversation about the importance of  helping nonprofits become stronger, more sustainable, and better able to serve their communities. An increasing number of funders are recognizing the importance of understanding, and supporting financially, the real costs of running an organization that serves the public.

Capacity building refers to activities that improve and enhance a nonprofit organization’s ability to achieve its mission and sustain its programs and services over time. While no one single definition exists that describes organizational capacity building, The Conservation Company (TCC), in a 2003 study of organizational practices describe four essential areas of capacity building for nonprofits, including

  1. Leadership Capacity: the ability of all organizational leaders to inspire, prioritize, make decisions, provide direction and innovate, all in an effort to achieve the organizational mission. An example of leadership capacity includes clarifying the organization’s purpose and ensuring alignment with program goals or providing executive coaching to senior leaders, specifically to learn how to engage stakeholders in shaping the future direction of the organization.
  2. Adaptive Capacity: the ability of a nonprofit organization to monitor, assess and respond to internal and external changes. Examples include adopting new governance practices, engaging in new collaborations with community partners, and assessing organizational effectiveness.
  3. Management Capacity: the ability of a nonprofit organization to ensure the effective and efficient use of organizational resources. Examples include identifying a communications strategy or improving staff and volunteer recruitment.
  4. Technical Capacity: the ability of a nonprofit organization to implement all of the key organizational and programmatic functions. Examples might include adopting a fund development strategy or identifying more efficient uses of technology.

When capacity building is successful, it strengthens a nonprofit’s ability to fulfill its mission over time and enhances the organization’s ability to have a significant, positive impact on lives and communities.

When considering your capacity building needs, it is best to start at the beginning! The first key area of capacity building is understanding why you exist and what you hope to accomplish. While you probably have a mission and vision statement in place, it is good to revisit that once in while to confirm that it is still relevant. Clarifying your purpose and aspiration is an important element of building overall Leadership Capacity.

Clarify Purpose and Aspiration

This involves understanding the shared vision of the community you serve and knowing why your organization exists in relation to that vision. Community conversations, focus groups, and interest surveys are good ways to gather information to revisit your organization’s purpose.

Several years ago, a group of dedicated parents and educators were dissatisfied with the condition of the local school district program and asked for help to develop and open a public charter school. I worked with them to think about and share their hopes and dreams to create a vision of the educational community they wished to build. Then they were asked to step back from that vision and consider emerging themes. This helped them  consider what was really important to them and guided them to develop their core values and operating principles. These, in turn, influenced their programmatic decisions. From that initial vision they developed operational goals and implemented a detailed action plan to open a public charter school that continues to be recognized in the community for outstanding student performance and family engagement.

Understanding your purpose is critical to achieving organizational success. It provides the compelling reason that staff and volunteers come together and work so hard. It propels your team toward a more desirable future state.

Questions that can help you clarify your organization’s purpose include:

  1. Why do we exist?
  2. What are we passionate about?
  3. What change do we want to create?
  4. What would be different if we were really successful in our work?
  5. What do the people we serve need from us? What are the issues they are trying to resolve? How does our organization meet that need?

Once the purpose and aspiration of the team is clear, you can them move on to figure out what can and will be acted upon to fulfill that purpose.


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