If we ask any of our nonprofit prospects and clients, what is their biggest challenge besides fundraising, the answer is invariably “building capacity.”
Capacity building is a broad term that encompasses “actions that improve nonprofit effectiveness.” According to a journal released by the Foundation Center in 2003 entitled, “Investing in Capacity Building: A Guide to High-Impact Approaches,” capacity building can take many forms, including:
- Professional development for staff and board members
- Opportunities for peer learning, networking, or leadership development
- Creating or re-examining organizational plans
- Initiating collaboration with other nonprofits
- Developing new sources for earned income
- Utilizing pro bono support for high-impact projects
Many of the community foundations and professional associations for nonprofits with whom we work offer numerous opportunities for capacity building – from grants directly to the organizations to bring on talent, expand knowledge and build strategy; to offering workshops, seminars, and conferences from which the nonprofits can learn.
Yet we are still talking about capacity building over a decade later. If we know these things mentioned prior can work, what isn’t working?
Our firm has studied this issue for two years. We have worked with over 1000 prospective clients in trying to establish a solution set that met their needs and their budget. We’ve heard from each of them as to what they have tried to do on their own and with help from foundations, associations, and in some cases universities. What we learned was that for each one, where the process of capacity building fell apart was in execution.
Good ideas, strategy, recommendations, action steps, all are excellent in theory but will fail the nonprofit if they feel unable to execute. Some obstacles to execution are time and resources, confidence and experience, and accountability.
Of the thousands of prospects and clients we spoke with, about 80% were deserving, viable nonprofits. They have neither the resources nor the time or support needed to truly benefit from a contract for private consulting support.
After our study of this issue, we built what we believe to be a game-changing answer to the capacity building issue for these nonprofits.
When we realized the scope of this problem, we thought, what if we could create a learning lab, curating the best of educational videos, podcasts, journal articles, and books, in which nonprofit executives could reliably and affordably access these tools in an online workspace, at any time. And what if we supported each learner with a private coach, who would have complete access to their learning progress in the lab, evaluating and mentoring them through assignment completion and assessments, and meet with the learner by phone, skype or google hangout once a month for 90 minutes.
And then what if we could provide an upfront assessment for the learner and the coach and learner could identify one looming key performance issue in the organization that they want to create a long-term project around, affecting real-time change to the nonprofits outcomes.
And finally what if we assembled six learners in a team, where they could interact, share ideas, and have rich discussions around topics relevant to the nonprofit industry, affecting their organizations?
Around these assumptions, we built BLOSSOM: The Virtual Incubator for Nonprofit Executives.
The incubator is a twelve-month program, covering fifteen different nonprofits business topics. Learners start with an assessment of their influence style and on their organization’s health. From these assessments, the coach will develop leadership learning opportunities and will define with the learner their long-term project. The Learner receives an online workspace that has the best of curated educational materials, tools, and templates, along with a resource library of additional information and downloadables. Learners are assembled with five other executives, for teams of six, who meet once per month online to discuss general nonprofit topics of interest. They also hold each other accountable for the progress and completion of their long-term projects. The program culminates with a review of real-time outcomes achieved, completion of the long-term project, and a new network of colleagues and support members to continue the growth and sustainability achieved.
Early feedback was overwhelmingly rejoiceful! Yes, rejoiceful, lol! Brilliant was one word used, Something I can really rely on for change in my organization was another phrase heard often.
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