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What do we mean by “capacity-building”?

In the non-profit and arts sector we use the term “capacity-building” a lot but we seldom stop to compare notes about what we mean by the term.  To many non-profit staff and volunteers, it is all about the money and certainly more dollars builds our capacity. . . as long as those dollars are not wasted.  But there are other considerations in capacity building that can help us do more with what we have and position us to grow.

Strategic Planning and Visioning:

When you have shared visioning and a strategic plan capacity is built in two important ways:  1) efforts are no longer wasted on activities that don’t contribute to the direction of the organization 2) middle and long-range plans are articulated in ways that can be developed into fundraising and marketing materials to bootstrap efforts.

Information Systems Review:

It doesn’t take investment in a hugely expensive new database to improve your information systems.  In most non-profits there is a lot of duplication that not only creates extra work but can introduce error into the system.  Things to think about are issuing charitable receipts from your accounting software, why enter them twice?  Link your database to your accounting software if you use a database to track donations.  Have all your contact lists in one place and segment them, do not generate many lists.  If your database is incompatible with other communications tools you use, consider switching, but beware spending huge dollars on systems that are hard to customize.  Go for a “right size” solution.  Compatibility and streamlined communications is the best time-saver.  Lastly, do an equipment review.  How much time is being wasted due to computer and network crashes.  New equipment quickly pays for itself when thousands of dollars in staff time are wasted struggling with old equipment.

Digital Communications Review:

Connect web, social and eblast communications.  While social platforms have their own style and tools, you can’t lose if you start your branded message with copy on your website news/blog; that message in turn is used to anchor content in your eblast and  is used for “more information” and the source of quotes for social posts.  All social posts should drive traffic to your site and/or to list sign up.  Make every social post count!

Human Resources Review:

An important part of capacity building is making the best use of the staff you have and retaining staff in order to keep organizational memory and retain staff into their most productive years.  For example, research shows that fund-development professionals only reach the peak of their capacity to raise money for organizations in their 5th year with an organization but the average time a non-profit retains a fund-development staff member is less than 3 years  so that lack of staff retention costs organizations in measureable ways.  If you are losing staff, you need to look hard at what has been going wrong.
Lack of clarity in job descriptions, duplication of job roles and inadequate delegation wastes staff time in duplicating work, seeking guidance/permissions to further assigned work and the time needed to untangle crossed signals and de-stress!  (And is also a factor in lack of retention.) For best capacity-building, first review the processes in your work:  Artistic Planning/Production,  Marketing, Fund-Development, etc.  How does it get done?  When does it need to happen?  What skills are needed to do what?  Only then think about the “Who should do it?” question as it will free you up from pre-conceptions about who does what?  Assignments need to be made based on skills and availability/capacity during predictable annual cycles.

Volunteer recruitment and retention

Never forget the capacity building power of a dedicated and enthusiastic group of volunteers.  Maximizing the capacity of your board, carving out meaningful volunteer roles related to your activities and events plus retaining volunteers through appreciation should be an important part of a management role.

What Next?

Once you’ve built capacity in all these ways, you are ready to build a convincing case to funders and to maximize the funds you receive.  Now that’s capacity-building!