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Capacity Building Investments from Funders

Capacity Building investments from funders is a growing area of opportunity for your nonprofit.

Building a sustainable and capable organization to deliver on your mission is the primary goal of every nonprofit. We often get inquires from nonprofit leaders about working with them to create strategy, plans, and to implement next level operations. In many cases, while they are primed for what we can do with them, they cannot quite afford the price tag of bringing in the expertise required to build their capacity. This is a difficult conundrum, one which government, private, and public funders are now acknowledging.

While your organizations program is essential, your services required, and the governance of your organization a foundation of your work – none of this is accomplished without sustainable operations.

There is nothing wrong with being a small nonprofit organization, bootstrapping your mission is perfectly acceptable as a means of operations – even for the long term. However, even a bootstrapped organization needs the stability and continuity of a well-defined and implemented strategy on resource development and evaluations.

Investing in the capacity of your organization can be an expensive project, for which many nonprofits are ill resourced. This is why a growing number of grantors are offering ‘Capacity Building’ grants to organizations who are committed to a thoughtful process of building a strategy and plan for enhancing their capacity.

When initiating a discussion with grantors about Capacity Building support, here are some things you should keep in mind and include in your conversation:

  1. What is the PURPOSE of your capacity building? Capacity building is about learning and changing things within your organization which will have a long-term impact on how you operate and deliver on your mission. Such areas include – Strategic Planning, Fund Development Plans, Board Development, and Marketing/Communications Plans. While buildings, programs, and services could deliver MORE for your mission, its not building the OPERATIONS of the organization which is what capacity building should focus on.
  2. WHY is this important at this time? Perhaps you have reached a milestone- you have a long waiting list of participants in a program or you have plateaued in your ability to meet need. Maybe you have been reliant on one form of funding and realize that you must expand your resource base to grow and stay viable. Maybe you need to invest in diversifying your governance leadership and explore how IDEA plays a role in your operations and work.
  3. WHAT will this capacity building do for you – short AND long term? Again, your WHAT it will do for you should reflect the OPERATIONS of the organization. Will it create efficiencies, effectiveness in delivery of mission? Will it elevate your brand to a wider community or will it enhance your revenue generation?
  4. Have a well-defined range of the money you will need to build your capacity. Be clear about how much it will cost you to do capacity building without being rigid about the amount, A grantor may be able to fund a portion of your need and not all of it.
  5. Ask the grantor about their purpose for giving such grants. There should be a fit between your purpose for the capacity building funding and their purpose for giving it.
  6. Understand the parameters of their grant program. Does it have:
    • Grant request submission deadlines?
    • Grant request dollar amount limitations?
    • Usage requirements? (how, when, and where it can be used if awarded)
    • Requirements for the length of service of your organization, the volume and reach of service delivery, any other specifics?
  7. Finally, ask about the selection process- what weight is given to various aspects of the grant submission? Some grantors weigh different parts of the grant submission differently – the ultimate impact of your capacity building on a certain population might weigh more than the geographic reach, etc.

Funders have realized that healthy organizations deliver better and longer on mission services. But to do so requires investment into maintaining and growing their operational health to be sustainable.  Because that’s a win for everyone- nonprofit, beneficiary, and funder- they value investing in this with you. Their willingness to fund this is an opportunity you should not ignore.


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