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Capacity building with The Annenberg Foundation


Capacity building is an important concept for many grantmaking institutions and nonprofit organizations in California - and around the world - to consider. Investing in capacity building is a modern and innovative approach to supporting and sustaining a nonprofit organization's ability to achieve its mission, going beyond traditional general operating support. Capacity building is crucial to achieving organizational goals, sustainability, and success, helping organizations weather difficult times. Capacity building supports the community for both the short and long term.

What does capacity building in California look like? How can grantmakers, nonprofits, and Catchafire collaborate to support underserved communities year-round, beyond traditional grant cycles?

We hosted a philanthropy roundtable for foundations to network and discuss how they are going beyond the grant to provide capacity building resources for grantees and community partners. During our conversation, we spoke to Nicole Smith, Program Officer and lead of the Alchemy program at The Annenberg Foundation. Nicole joined the Annenberg Foundation in October 2019 and focuses on Alchemy, the Foundation's signature capacity building program, and the Community Grantmaking Program.

We spoke to our partners at The Annenberg Foundation about our collaborative work to support nonprofit organizations by investing in capacity building in California. Since 2018, Catchafire has partnered with The Annenberg Foundation to provide capacity building in California, with a focus on the community in Greater Los Angeles (Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange, San Bernardino, and Riverside County).

Our capacity building work together is a two-pronged approach: individuals who join the Annenberg-funded Alchemy program receive critical education and training on capacity building topics, which they can put into practice through sponsored access to Catchafire. All cohorts of Alchemy are granted access to Catchafire through The Annenberg Foundation, allowing them to translate their learnings into action and enjoy a suite of capacity building resources and tools from our platform. Access to Catchafire provides nonprofits with a global network of volunteers, professional nonprofit advisors, additional trainings and support groups, and project templates to gain capacity building support. On Catchafire, nonprofits can easily post a project within five minutes, and get matched with an experienced volunteer within five days.

Together, we’re going beyond the grant, combining the efforts of Annenberg’s Alchemy program and Catchafire to provide double the resources and impact for nonprofits and their leaders.

Capacity building for the California community: The Annenberg Foundation


Capacity building in California is critical for strengthening underserved communities, nonprofits, and individuals. The Annenberg Foundation was established in 1989, and is currently led by two generations of family members.

The Annenberg Foundation's Alchemy program is a free enhanced capacity building and leadership development program focused on serving nonprofits and their leaders located in the five-county region of Greater Los Angeles with budgets up to $5 million. Since 2006, over 2,500 nonprofit leaders have participated in the program.

The Alchemy initiative focuses on common capacity building themes:

  1. Training and technical assistance
  2. Leadership development
  3. Resource development
  4. Collaboration and networking

"We bring in local consultants with local reach in the communities we serve and have experience being nonprofit leaders themselves. We're mindful of power dynamics as a funder, so we don't aim for us to lead the training when there's so many experts in the field. We want to be back-end facilitators who create the learning environment, but they run the show once the program starts." - Nicole

The Alchemy Suite contains a number of programs, including:

  1. Alchemy Labs: Alchemy Labs provide workshops on a variety of capacity building topics.
  2. Fundamentals: As a signature course and the first phase of Alchemy's leadership training, this program is focused on the working relationship between executive directors and their board chairs. Both individuals attend all training sessions; courses in this program include board governance and development, addressing implicit bias, nonprofit financials, fundraising, and storytelling. If executive directors and board chairs have a successful relationship, it funnels down the organizations and builds a strong foundation for capacity building.
  3. Alchemy+: A follow up to the Fundamentals program, Alchemy+ ensures that nonprofit leaders are equipped with the practices and resources they need to thrive and deliver on their mission. Executive directors and board chairs join this program to learn best practices and essential fundraising strategies.
  4. AlchemyTech: Alchemy Tech equips nonprofits with the skills they need to invest in their IT infrastructure. Nonprofit staff are often in need of technical training for day to day operations like website maintenance, digital security, and donor databases. In this program, organizations will learn about IT planning and assessment, using technology to streamline operations, digital success for nonprofits, design tools, racial equity and technology planning, foundations for successful remote teams, IT security fundamentals, and technology road maps.
  5. Alchemy CNN Heroes: Sunset in 2020, this program was specialized and tailored towards free nonprofit leadership training for the Top 10 CNN Heroes.

The Annenberg Foundation has also launched several new programs, including:

  1. Alchemy for Black -Led Organizations, aiming to help Black leaders in Southern California understand their role in the fight for racial justice, solidify that everyone is part of an ecosystem, and give them the tailored support and space they need to learn and grow. The program aligns Black executive directors and board chairs, providing them with the resources that can amplify their impact and ability to lead their organizations and serve their communities.
  2. Alchemy for Super Bowl Champions: In honor of the Super Bowl in Los Angeles last year, a special program was created to support 56 local nonprofit champions and their board chairs with fundamental training in nonprofit governance.

Coming soon is Alchemy for Leaders of Color, a new initiative building on the learnings from Alchemy for Black-led organizations. Overall, these programs provide essential capacity building in California, helping local nonprofits and leaders achieve their goals.

The benefits of capacity building for nonprofits in California


In recent years, capacity building has become an increasingly important focus for grantmakers and nonprofit organizations in California. Capacity building makes nonprofits more sustainable, allowing them to become more grant-ready, access new technology and resources, and gain essential skills that help them grow.

Through capacity building, nonprofits can increase access to resources, knowledge, and skills. They can also improve planning, governance and leadership, and increase organizational effectiveness and efficiency. It also provides an opportunity for organizations to strengthen their ability to respond to changing needs and conditions in the community, access and leverage new and diversified sources of funding, engage and collaborate with stakeholders and partners, and improve financial management, risk management, and sustainability.

By engaging in capacity building initiatives, foundations and nonprofit organizations in California can also improve their ability to respond to emerging opportunities and challenges in the community, measure and evaluate impact and outcomes, and enhance their ability to be more successful in achieving their missions. Through capacity building, both grantmakers and nonprofits in California can become better equipped to meet the demands of a changing environment and remain competitive in the long run.

Elements of a successful capacity building program: partnering with Catchafire


Capacity building is an essential investment for organizations and communities in California. Participants in The Annenberg Foundation's Alchemy program, with cohorts ranging from 30 to 40 organizations at a time, all have access to Catchafire, providing them with:

  • A global network of skilled volunteer professionals, with decades of expertise and ready to lend support on critical projects and calls in key department areas
  • Unlimited access to professional nonprofit advisors, ready to provide advice, feedback, and decision-making support
  • Leadership coaching and networking through one on one opportunities, monthly trainings, and nonprofit executive director support groups
  • Needs assessment tools and project templates that are easy to use, grow capacity, and provide immediate support for organizational needs

"What we have found within our entire Catchafire cohort is that the Alchemy participants have the highest realization of the platform." - Nicole

By utilizing capacity building resources and tools from Catchafire and The Annenberg Foundation, organizations and communities in California can build capacity to achieve their goals. Since 2018, our collaboration has resulted in over $5 million nonprofit dollars saved, 257 organizations matched on over 1,500 projects, and almost 30,000 volunteer hours donated to support nonprofits in California.

"We continuously hear feedback from grantees, and not just about saving time and money. They're able to use Catchafire not only to build capacity in the traditional sense, but to upskill things like marketing and human resources. These are projects that are essential and critical operations in any organization. Being able to upskill those kinds of tasks with Catchafire creates such a strong foundation for capacity building." - Nicole

Nonprofits build relationships and strengthen their networks by working with volunteers on Catchafire.

Nicole said, "We've heard from our grantees that they have hired staff from individuals who used to be volunteers on Catchafire. One grantee scaled her entire organization - she started off really small and essentially built up the entire infrastructure of the organization through the Catchafire membership."

One of their grantees, The Jewel Box Children's Theater Company in Signal Hill, California, creates equitable theater and music programs that are accessible and inclusive for all children. Through Catchafire and working with volunteers, the organization has saved over $25,000 on eight projects. For example, with just two hours on a website call, Neil was able to provide quick feedback on the organization's website and messaging, saving them over $500.



Another grantee, the Experimentally Structured Museum of Art (ESMoA)/artlab21 Foundation, has saved over $220,000 on 39 projects. It is ESMoA’s mission to act as a catalyst for creative thinking in the South Bay and greater Los Angeles area with a focus on experimental exhibitions, community engagement, and arts education.

Valerie helped the organization save 30 hours and over $7,000 on a translation project, helping ESMoA/ artlab21 Foundation reach volunteers, beneficiaries, and supporters who speak a different language by translating their communications materials. The saved funds went towards their education program.




Operation Blankets of Love (OBOL) is a nonprofit animal welfare emergency and disaster relief organization. OBOL's mission is to improve the health of homeless animals and increase their chances for survival and adoption. They aim to eliminate animal homelessness and euthanasia. With Catchafire, the organization has saved almost $40,000 on 15 projects.

Amy helped the organization save $1,300 on a brochure graphic design project. Eileen, the Executive Director of OBOL says, "I do not have anyone to do this. This will save us even more funds so we can help to save more animals in need. Our booklet is a vital source of information to help to end animal abuse and prevent pets from ending up in shelters. This project is estimated to save us $1,308, allowing us to teach from 4 years olds to 18 to be kind and respect all animals, plus homeless animals in need. Each child gets our booklet free. Our mission is to increase their chances to be loved and adopted."


These are just some capacity building examples with a tangible, direct impact on California nonprofits and underserved communities as a result of our collaboration with The Annenberg Foundation.

"We think about our values as a grantmaker - being responsive, adaptive, and action-oriented - all things we should be equipping our grantees to be, especially with the changing landscape. That's why Catchafire is so important because it helps organizations be agile and responsive. We found that during the pandemic, although our general operating support helped organizations, Catchafire was critical because organizations now had access to actual volunteers and staff to help them pivot their services online. It's one thing to give money, but it's another to actually provide the support to utilize dollars more effectively.

It starts with our Alchemy program, and then it's reinforced continuously with Catchafire. Leaders get this training and then with Catchafire, they can immediately log on, find volunteers, post a project, match, and get going." - Nicole

Bring Catchafire to your community

If you’re a grantmaker and would like to learn more about equipping nonprofits in your community with responsive, high-quality capacity building support, let’s connect. Email us here.

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