Can You Build Capacity Without Defining it First?

by Support Kansas City

About the SKC Community Advisory Group

The SKC Community Advisory Group is a group of community leaders who meet quarterly to share ideas about improving the performance of nonprofits and provide guidance to SKC in the role we play in supporting a high performing, sustainable nonprofit community. The SKC Community Advisory Group met in October. The conversation focused on capacity at three different levels; community wide, within the nonprofit sector, and from an organizational perspective. Our thanks to the SKC Community Advisory Group members: Rhonda Holman with the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, Gloria Jackson-Leathers with the Kauffman Foundation, Missouri, Mark Shuster with the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, Macaela Stephenson with Blue Cross Blue Shield, John Woods with the City of Kansas City, Stephen Samuels with LISC, and Andrea Young representing the SKC board, for their leadership perspective on nonprofit sector capacity.

Can You Build Capacity Without Defining it First?

What would happen to Kansas City if the entire sector of nonprofits no longer existed? There is a need to find meaningful ways to increase awareness in our community about the critical role nonprofits play both economically, and with the services they provide. Would further research to determine nonprofit sector capacity and the value to our community provide motivation and inspiration for all three sectors (nonprofit, for profit and government) to better coordinate philanthropic activities? According to the Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership, charitable sector revenues were $15.6 billion, approximately 12.8 percent of the region’s economy in 2014. Over 7,000 (one third have budgets of more than $25,000) 501c3 organizations and 2,200 religious congregations operate in the Kansas City region. Nationally, nonprofits account for over 10% of total employment with health care and social assistance agencies being the largest employers (Bureau of Labor Statistics). These statistics would probably surprise most Kansas Citiains.

Could Kansas City nonprofits do a better job of seeking each other out to improve capacity within our sector? It is critical for nonprofits to recognize that breaking down silos and doing more collective work can solve more than one problem and build sector capacity. Are nonprofits educating themselves about the local landscape, to better share resources, collaborate, provide referrals and encourage standards of practice? Every nonprofit that exists today began because of one concerned individual’s passion or a group of concerned individuals’ passion for a cause. In that quest to fulfill organizational mission, are nonprofit leaders engaging their peers in how to put resources together in partnership?

How do nonprofits gain capacity over time? The Advisory Group conversation continued to intersect around capacity, but at the organizational level. Capacity expectations differ in organizations that are 3 years, 8 years, or 15 years old. Nonprofits could benefit from a better understanding of where they are in their organizational lifecycles, and how that affects their organizational capacity. Once that understanding exists, nonprofits can develop ways to build the core competencies necessary to take them to the next step in their life cycle. They could be better informed about building funds for leadership and staff development, program evaluation and strategic planning activities into their budgets.

Whether it’s at the community level, across sector or within the individual organizations, there is a genuine need for understanding and defining capacity. A critical input to the equation of excellence for nonprofits and the field of philanthropy is putting capacity discussions at the forefront for staff, boards and donors. A shift in the phrase from “capacity building” to “capacity defined” might be the key to moving nonprofits closer to aligning the delivery of their missions with their organizational capabilities, creating stronger partnerships within the sector, and sending clearer messages to the community about the critical role nonprofits play to increase more cross sector collaboration.

Sector at a glance:

For the benefit of the nonprofit sector everywhere, we wanted to provide resources for ways we can continue to operate and grow within this era. And once social distancing begins to fade, what lessons can we take from this to improve our operations permanently. Come back often for more updates.