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Organizational Capacity Building

 In Blog

The following article was written by Wendy Chang, Director of the Dwight Stuart Youth Fund.

Every organization is undergoing change all the time. Even if we don’t recognize it, we are impacted positively or negatively. GREAT organizations know how to initiate and react to change effectively. What’s the framework? It’s a high level of awareness and commitment to ongoing capacity building activities.

Capacity building is a process designed to improve the management/business practices of an organization. Capacity does not necessarily equate to bigger, it means better. It gives strength, purpose, integrity, and optimism to all the stakeholders championing for the longevity and health of each organization that is an integral part of our vibrant communities.

Capacity building has been supported by funders (government, foundations, corporations, individuals) for many years and interest in this area is growing. However, many of the fundamental challenges remain the same. Most nonprofits still do not pay enough attention to management/infrastructure concerns. Many funders still believe that funding core organizational infrastructure diverts money from those who directly benefit from program services. In addition, a funder-driven capacity building activity may not be what the organization wants nor needs at this point in time (importance of understanding different stages). Capacity building also takes time, so it is important to support and honor the correct “dosage” of activity so that groups are not negatively impacted.

Where we have matured is from mostly remedial-based interventions to systems change approaches, skills transference, and continuous learning. This has led to better self-designed, self-paced capacity building experiences. Importantly, a core of the work became more people-centered and relationship oriented. Often times due to the eagerness to impact communities, organizations do not focus internally. It is not enough to be committed to a mission – processes, systems and people matter.

Within its overall mission of supporting organizations serving underserved children and youth the Dwight Stuart Youth Fund (a private family foundation) has elected to support a set of activities aimed at strengthening youth-serving nonprofits in Los Angeles County.The Fund’s Capacity-Building Initiative is intended (1) to enable the Fund to have a more direct and measurable impact, and (2) to help its grantees respond to the increasingly intense cycles of change facing nonprofits.

In addition, to supporting direct capacity building activities identified by each individual grantee, The Dwight Stuart Youth Fund partners with capacity-building providers, participates in several funders collaboratives, and invests in place-based initiatives. Fundamentally, we believe the best outcomes are arrived when peer learning, one-on-one coaching, and partnerships are part of the endeavor.

While there can be power dynamics at play for funder supported capacity building efforts, supporting improved capacities/operations is the flexibility needed and the very purpose for which many foundations were created. “Walk the Talk” by providing resources, referrals, and joining in funding partnerships to respond to emerging needs and changing environments.

All change is ultimately a human enterprise thus individual development, flexibility, and support (when mistakes and setbacks eventually happen) are strategies that make a difference. What we hope and dream for our communities is manifested by the opportunities and the innovative practices created.

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