Capacity Building – What is it and what are we trying to do about it?

“Capacity building” is a big topic in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector, but there isn’t consensus on what is meant by the term and what to do to build capacity. Examples of initiatives intended to build capacity in nonprofits include:

• Training to strengthen skills of staff at nonprofits, such as grant-writing, marketing, or human resources
• Equipment to support a nonprofit’s work, such as computer servers or software
• Consulting planning services for strategic, communication, or succession plans
• Funding to add a new key staff position, such as in resource development or marketing

But there is a general sense from both nonprofit organizations and funders that these loose and varied efforts are missing the mark in truly building overall nonprofit capacity.

Still, nonprofit and philanthropic leaders in Greenville County agree that strengthening our nonprofit sector is worth the investment of time, effort and funds. To do so, in 2016, nonprofit execs and funders developed a process for local nonprofits to assess themselves.

Forty-nine Greenville County-based nonprofit organizations participated. They were diverse in size of budget and staff, age of organization, area of mission, and lifecycle stage. But in aggregate, the process identified the following of Greenville’s nonprofit sector:

• Learning and adapting to external circumstances
• Leaders with vision
• Management policies and practices

• Program resources adaptability – what does an organization do if it loses funding or a staff person?
• Leadership sustainability – do organizations have succession plans or deep benches to replace retiring leaders?
• Skilled staff in resource development and communications
• Organizational culture

The nonprofits participating in the process and GPP members met on June 27th to review the results. There was a shared appetite to help nonprofits get stronger and a recognition that this will take financial support. This financial support may come in the form of grants to nonprofits to help with capacity building (through succession planning, strategic planning, or board development, for instance) or investments in a community-wide capacity building initiative. But it can also come through simply supporting nonprofit overhead or operations so that nonprofits can invest in themselves and leave the nonprofit “starvation cycle.”

Regardless of the “how,” all attending agreed that the “why” is clear – we need to build the capacity of our nonprofit sector so that we can make its work in improving Greenville as effective as possible.

A steering committee of nonprofits and funders will continue to work on moving capacity building forward in our community. If you’re interested in learning more, contact Addy Matney or Katy Smith.

To learn more:
Greenville County aggregated capacity building assessment report
June 27, 2017 presentation to GPP and nonprofit organizations
Follow up discussion notes from June 27, 2017 meeting


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