What does building capacity really mean?

Funders often talk about “building capacity” in the nonprofit sector, and as a grant writer and former nonprofit employee myself, I know it isn’t always clear what that means. I know building capacity means being able to do more, but more what? In the nonprofit sector, this “more” usually focuses on mission. More capacity means increased ability to carry out an organization’s mission: feed, clothe, house, enrich, educate, care…

But in order to do that, an organization doesn’t necessarily need strictly more loaves of bread, pairs of socks, apartments, books etc. It needs more of other things that make that possible. In the case of a food bank, for example, this may mean increased staff to stock the food, a warehouse to store the food, or a computer system to calculate and track the food… Then, the organization is faced with the questions of how they will raise funds to hire and train new staff, how they will heat the warehouse, which technology they should use in the new computer system, and how their Executive Director can best assume the increased responsibilities of more staff and storage capabilities. A new development or strategic plan may be required, training for board and staff members, or the creation of new financial management procedures.

So where does one start when they look to build capacity within their organization?

This is a question you can run by me and other staff at The Alaska Community Foundation who work directly with the nonprofit sector through our “Strengthening Organizations” grant program, generously funded by the Rasmuson Foundation. Grants from this program support nonprofit organizations and tribes in Alaska as they grapple with the challenges and opportunities of building organizational capacity. The guidelines for this program outline activities that are eligible for funding and we encourage applicants to call us to discuss a project before applying, as well as to submit a draft of the application for review before final submission. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis and reviewed for decisions quarterly.

What I think is most valuable about this program comes well before a funding decision is made or an application even comes to my desk. It starts with meetings among an organization’s staff and board members to identify their current and future needs. It includes exploring options to expand capacity, whether that is with a consultant, external trainer, or partner organization. It includes thinking outside the box and reaching out to other organizations who may do similar things, but in a slightly different way. And it includes reaching out to our team here at The Alaska Community Foundation to talk about the project your organization would like to do to jump to the next level.

Come on by to discuss your project.

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