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How can investing in organizational capacity strengthen the missions of nonprofit organizations?

The Opportunity

Nonprofits provide a safety net for our nation’s most vulnerable families and individuals. These organizations provide education, healthcare, food, shelter, and other critical social services. While programs and services are integral to a nonprofit’s mission – and, necessarily, represent the majority of their funding – equally important are infrastructure components such as leadership and staff development, information technology, and financial systems. Investing in these tools can help nonprofits become more efficient, adaptive, and sustainable, and put them in a stronger position to better serve their clients. Few funders provide the financial support required by high performing nonprofits to develop future leaders, build organizational evaluation systems, or improve financial management and planning. Organizations are left with what the Nonprofit Finance Fund describes, in its 2014 State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey, as “a dual challenge: meeting immediate demand, while simultaneously building new, more efficient systems for solving problems.”

“Capacity-building support in terms of dollars and skills building is very hard to come by and essential to organizational development. This program is a fantastic resource for our region.”

Pew Fund awardee

The Response

In the Philadelphia region, there are many nonprofit organizations that serve large numbers of people in need. And these organizations need strengthening as well. The Pew Fund for Health and Human Services has partnered with Equal Measure to offer capacity building support that will help nonprofits become more results-oriented, financially secure, and able to adapt to new demands. The Pew Fund supports capacity-building in the areas of management information systems, financial management and planning, leadership succession and next tier leadership development, and evaluation and outcomes systems. Since the beginning of this Pew Fund investment in 2006, Equal Measure has provided a suite of philanthropic services, including drafting and disseminating calls for Letters of Inquiry, reviewing Letters of Inquiry from potential awardees, issuing the awards, and conducting capacity building workshops.

The Results

Since Spring 2006, Equal Measure has awarded 180 capacity building awards to 109 different Pew Fund grantees for projects that serve children, youth, and families; the elderly; and vulnerable adults. These awards total just over $6 million. Several examples of these initiatives include:

  • A regional mental healthcare organization purchased new laptop and desktop computers and LCD projectors. The organization used this technology to provide 199 new educational programs to 5,545 individuals and families. These programs have helped people gain access to medical care, and support networks resulting in better client care.
  • A domestic violence agency used funds to redesign its website, as a way to increase donations and, ultimately, enhance sustainability. Prior to the redesign, an average of 8 donors gave an average of $1,134 in donations per month. Following the changes to the website, an average of 18 donors gave an average of $3,261 in donations via the website. The agency notes that it is increasing its ability to deliver services to its client base.

As a result of the Capacity Building Program for the Pew Fund for Health and Human Services, awardee organizations are exhibiting a more sophisticated understanding of their organizational infrastructure requirements for delivering quality, sustainable services. The organizations also report that these improvements enhance their abilities to better meet clients’ needs. Leading a sound, effective organization has always been essential to delivering quality services to vulnerable populations, and in the last decade, we have witnessed a sea of change which has made capacity-building a fundamental practice.

New Resources

From the field:

The Nonprofit Finance Fund’s 2014 State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey describes the top challenges facing social sector organizations, and calls out a number of ideas to address topics such as funding, growth, sustainability, and infrastructure.

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