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Rebecca Coker & Jessica Huey: The Stories of Capacity Building

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Guest bloggers Rebecca Coker, Lead Consultant, West Coast and Jessica Huey, Consultant, both work with with FMA helping foundations stengthen their grantees and nonprofits improve capacity. In their co-authored blog below, they explain how effective management of grantee funds and an alternative mindset can affect today's grantmaking. 

Ask anyone what the major challenges nonprofit organizations are facing, and inevitably the issue of sustainable funding will come up.

Funders motivated to support the work of promising nonprofit organizations often turn to grants as a reliable mechanism to provide capital. But sustainable funding isn’t just about securing funds; it’s also about effectively managing those funds. While traditional grantmaking has increasingly become more innovative in supporting targeted outcomes, there is still room to develop partnerships and support that extend beyond the life of a single grant.

As part of Beyond the Grant: Solutions for Building Nonprofit Operational Excellence, you’ll have the unique opportunity to hear from three different perspectives on funder-sponsored capacity building:  grantees, funders, and capacity-building experts.

The Benefits of Funder-Sponsored Capacity Building

The idea of developing an ongoing partnership with grantees and broadening their learning opportunities through cohort based capacity building was the basis of two recent funder initiatives by The Wallace Foundation and Tipping Point Community. Rather than providing capital to sustain the life of one program cycle of a nonprofit organization, the foundations chose to focus on building the overall operational capacity of entire organizations. By looking at each nonprofit organization as a whole and understanding everything that was necessary to do its work effectively, these funders were able to better leverage their dollars to have a greater impact.

Strengthening Financial Management:  The Skills to Pay the Bills

In 2009, the Wallace Foundation sought to address the financial management challenges facing 25 nonprofit organizations involved with after school programming for Chicago youth. Throughout this process, the overarching belief was that by strengthening the financial management of an organization, there would be spillover effects for better decision-making from truly understanding the costs of providing programs and services. Over a four year period, the Wallace Foundation funded two models of professional development: (1) a Customized Learning model that included substantial individual consulting and group learning for organizations’ leaders, and (2) a Group Learning model that provided primarily group learning opportunities.

In addition to focusing on financial management, The Wallace Foundation utilized a cohort based capacity building model.  This peer-learning model allowed leadership teams to learn together and – perhaps more importantly – learn from each other. As peers, the 25 organizations had similar challenges that they were able to informally consult about with each other, allowing them to both problem-solve and build community at the same time.

FACT:  Integrated Communications and Fundraising

Utilizing a similar cohort-based capacity building model, Tipping Point Community focused its initiative on building the fundraising and communications of their grantees as well as working across fundraising, communications and finance teams. Fundraising is a critical part of running any nonprofit, and much of fundraising relies on being able to tell your story effectively. Grantees had the opportunity to share what was working for their organizations as well as their most pressing challenges. As part of the training, each organization then received individualized consulting to help them transform their strategies into action items.


Learn more about our upcoming program