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Organizational Management

Nonprofit Capacity Building: 12 Innovative Strategies to Try For 2024

Author: Marlena Moore
December 15, 2023
🕑 9 min read

Everyone wants their nonprofit organization to run as best as possible—and ideally, without anyone burning out. That’s why it’s so essential to invest in thoughtful nonprofit capacity building strategies! 

It’s true that “building capacity” can feel like a whole lot of jargon, which is why we want to use this blog post to: 

  • Define what organizational capacity building actually is 
  • Explore evolving opinions and perspectives on this strategy 
  • Offer a 5-step process to get started 
  • Provide 12 nonprofit capacity building examples to get you inspired 

With all this information, you can be empowered to bring time, money and energy into your nonprofit organization! 

What Is Capacity Building for Nonprofits? 

According to the National Council of Nonprofits: “Capacity building is whatever is needed to bring a nonprofit to the next level of operational, programmatic, financial, or organizational maturity, so it may more effectively and efficiently advance its mission into the future.” 

Put simply, nonprofit capacity building is about tapping into the resources and tools that help your organization function at its most optimal state. The goal? To make your operations as sustainable as possible so your nonprofit can thrive in the years to come! 

There are a few angles you can take when building capacity in nonprofit organizations: 

  • Individual. All companies are made up of people, and offering your team the resources, education and training they need to thrive helps them work at their best. We want to set people up for success on an individual level! 
  • Organizational. In order to function efficiently and effectively, your nonprofit will need resources like functional equipment, streamlined nonprofit software, diverse revenue streams and thriving partnerships. 
  • Systemic. Diverse boards, communities of practice and sincere DEI initiatives are just a few tools that can help empower team members and more effectively serve the communities and missions that you work to impact. 
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Why Does Nonprofit Capacity Building Matter? 

Building capacity for nonprofit organizations is meant to help: 

  • Prevent nonprofit employee burnout from taking a toll on your team 
  • Provide the resources for sustainable long-term growth 
  • Keep you accountable to your mission as you continue to work to forward it 
  • Create a healthy company culture where people are proud to work 

When it comes to resources, we encourage you to think about time, money and energy! As you peruse our capacity building examples, consider how they could help fill each of these tanks. 

How to Build Capacity in Your Nonprofit 

Here are 5 steps you can take as you begin mapping out strategies for building capacity in your organization: 

  1. Triage the current situation. What programs do you most need help with? Where are you consistently stretched thin? If the same ball keeps getting dropped, chances are that it’s simply become too heavy. 
  2. Connect openly with your team. In order to have a full picture, everyone needs space to say where they’re facing capacity challenges. Asking questions like: “if you could have extra hours in the day, where would they go?” or “if you could be given $10,000 for anything in the organization, where would it go?” gives you valuable insight. 
  3. See where you need to outsource and invest. If you’ve got any flexibility in your nonprofit’s budget, see which items you’d benefit from outsourcing. It makes sense to want to save money, but sometimes the internal workarounds end up being more energetically expensive. 
  4. Set timelines and expectations. Fast solutions are the dream, but the reality is that big changes take time. Keep your goals SMART, and be generous with your timelines—there’s no point in capacity building strategies that reduce your capacity. 
  5. Check in and review. Hold meetings with your team and board of directors to evaluate how the changes you’ve made are going. Is your organization running more efficiently? Are people more happy with their workload? If anything isn’t working, you can always adapt and adjust! 

12 Strategies for Nonprofit Capacity Building 

Without further ado, let’s dive into our top 12 strategies for building capacity in your nonprofit organization! These strategies will include individual, organizational and systemic capacity building examples. 

Professional Development 

Are your team members feeling overwhelmed or uncertain of themselves? Then it’s time to invest in professional development opportunities! 

You can build their skills and confidence with resources like: 

If you want to focus on board effectiveness, you can always plan some time for nonprofit board training. While all of your board members are talented in their field, being a board member is a skill of its own. 

Before writing off your board as sleepy, give them the tools to grow with your organization! 

Peer Learning & Networking 

When your struggles feel insurmountable, remember that there is an entire industry of peers with shared experiences. By forming new connections, you can tap into essential capacity building knowledge—which is especially useful for young nonprofits! 

Build relationships in your industry by: 

In the article by Marcus Littles we mentioned earlier, he raises the issue that “capacity building expects transactions to produce transformational results.” Where grants can provide funding, they can’t provide knowledge. Joining an association and networking with industry leaders who have shared experiences fosters nonprofit capacity building through authentic connections. 

Invest in Future Leaders 

When rising stars emerge in the nonprofit world, one of the biggest challenges is tapping into their energy without burning them out. 

Create the leaders of tomorrow, complete with healthy boundaries, with things like: 

  • Dedicated leadership programs 
  • Mentorships 
  • Wellness initiatives 

Leadership and management are both skills. By offering skill development tools early on, you empower your rockstars to thrive in their promotions rather than get overwhelmed. 

Hire a Consultant 

Looking for some feedback from folks who’ve been in the industry for a good long time? Then you can’t go wrong with a nonprofit consultant, especially if they specialize in capacity building!  

To give you an idea of fees, the average nonprofit consultant charges $85-$150 an hour. If you’re connecting with a very popular consultant, it could go up to $300 an hour or more. As you reach out, be candid about your budget and see if you can work out a package that makes both you and the consultant happy.  

If you’re getting any pushback from your time, or are finding yourself facing off against a change-averse board, an experienced consultant can smooth out those bumps. 

Choosing Your Nonprofit Software 

Ask any nonprofit administrator and they’ll be quick to tell you how much time goes into tasking! From handling fussy comms systems to managing member information to processing forms, there are a lot of tedious steps that can eat up hours and energy. 

That’s where choosing the right nonprofit software can swoop in—especially if you’re working with a membership base. 

WildApricot’s award-winning membership management software provides you with: 

  • Member databases to keep track of donor information in one place 
  • Secure payment processing and automated donor receipts 
  • Automated communications with your members 
  • A mobile app to help you manage your organization anytime, anywhere 
  • An intuitive and attractive website builder (plus integrations!) 
  • And more! 

Sign up for a 60-day free trial to start exploring how we can help your nonprofit build capacity. 

Diversify Your Income Streams 

One of the core goals of nonprofit capacity building is making things sustainable. To quote Anu Malipatil & Lucy Brainard’s article in the Stanford Review: “without a strong revenue model, programs may not be sustainable over the long term.  

Relying on one source of revenue puts a lot of eggs in one basket, and can build anxiety about what happens if that stream disappears.  

Diversify your streams of revenue by: 

  • Connecting with major donors 
  • Applying to capacity building grants for nonprofits (see below!) 
  • Selling and promoting great merch with turnkey ecommerce solutions or online stores 
  • Providing peer-to-peer fundraising resources and training 
  • Running a membership drive to increase dues 
  • Building relationships for in-kind donations 

Seek out Capacity Building Grants for Nonprofits 

Grants are one of the most popular streams of revenue for nonprofit organizations, but they’re not all equal when it comes to capacity building! 

It might feel like all money is good money, but the restrictions some grants come with can end up reducing your capacity. Earlier, we talked about the value of money, time and energy. If a grant sucks up all your time and energy, there comes a point where the money might actually lose value.  

The 2021 resource Making Capacity Building More Equitable: A Field Guide for Funders states that “multi-year, unrestricted grants are capacity-building grants.” Whenever possible, seek out the grants that give you the breathing room to do your job without being given even more work. 

Nurture Your Volunteers 

Don’t underestimate the power of your volunteers! After all, they’re the people who believe in your cause enough to invest their time for free.   

Tighten your bonds and boost volunteer effectiveness with thorough volunteer training, and don’t be afraid to make asks throughout the year. When your core staff is running low on juice, you might be surprised how many volunteers are eager to swoop in. 

Engage in Organizational Mapping 

A strong organization begins in the bones. Sometimes, inefficiency can be a simple matter of an organization outgrowing its original structure. Other times, you might just have gathered enough data to realize your structure isn’t as solid as you hoped! 

Looking for a resource to help you do a deep dive into transforming your nonprofit? Check out the Ford Foundation’s Organizational Mapping Tool (OMT). In its own words, the OMT is an “open-source, organizational assessment tool that is designed to help nonprofits identify and prioritize their organizational strengthening needs.” 

Bring this tool to your board and see how it can build capacity from the ground up. 

Make (or Revisit!) Your Strategic Plan 

If you’re finding yourself caught in capacity struggles, then a strategic plan is a great way to get your feet under you. The first step is running a SWOT analysis, which is designed to help you identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. From there, you can apply this information to your current capacity and plan for what comes next. 

If you’re looking for some support with strategic planning, this is a place where a consultant can help you out! 

Try a Community Centric Model 

If you haven’t already heard of the community centric fundraising we’d love to make the introduction! The community centric fundraising (CCF) framework is one that imagines a world where the charitable giving sector moves away from outdated fundraising traditions. 

This model prioritizes the needs of beneficiaries over the wants of donors, and naturally guides the way towards funding that honors nonprofit capacity. 

Check out Vu Lee’s groundbreaking 9 Principles of Community Centric Fundraising to learn more! 

Strives Towards Workplace Diversity and Equity 

Implementing DEI initiatives is essential to creating a culture that’s safe and supportive for your nonprofit’s team. Nonprofit burnout is very common, and one contributing factor can be from the backlash team members receive from speaking out against inequality and injustices. 

Hiring diverse employees and building a diverse board should be standard in the nonprofit world. But it’s also important to make sure that once people are hired, they actually have the support they need to thrive! An antiracism toolkit is a must-have resource when it comes to building capacity for all employees. 

Building Capacity and Empowering Your Nonprofit 

We hope these nonprofit capacity building strategies have got your gears turning! Whether you’re looking for ways to empower your individual employees or restructure your organization, there are plenty of resources out there to support you. 

Want to start by powering up your administrative systems and freeing up time? Shoot us a message to sign up for your 60-day free trial of WildApricot’s membership management software today! 

Start a free trial of WildApricot today. Click here

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