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Rewriting capacity building: Event recap


Capacity building refers to the ability of an individual, organization, or community to perform activities and functions effectively and efficiently. It is an important concept in the philanthropic sector, particularly for small, grassroots nonprofit organizations that are on the front lines of community needs. These nonprofits have limited staff, tight budgets, and an ever growing demand for their services in the community.

Traditional grant cycles and financial support limit the kind of assistance grantmakers can provide to their grantees. At Catchafire, we provide nonprofits with a suite of capacity building support dedicated to strengthening organizations so that they can focus on sustainability, carrying out their mission, and serving their communities.

With Catchafire, nonprofits can:

  • Troubleshoot challenges
  • Receive a better assessment of their organizational needs and priorities
  • Post a project within 5 minutes and get connected to a volunteer
  • Enjoy unlimited access to professional nonprofit advisors
  • Join monthly trainings that support professional development
  • Network with their peers in executive leadership groups

Through Catchafire and innovative capacity building support, foundations can more nimbly respond to the needs of their grantees and communities on a rolling basis year-round.

Capacity building is critical -- how can foundations adapt their methods to more effectively build relationships and meet the needs of their communities? How can they provide sustainable support for nonprofits and contribute to organizational success?

We hosted an event on rewriting capacity building with Satonya C. Fair, JD, President & CEO of PEAK Grantmaking. Over the past 25 years in the nonprofit and philanthropic space, Satonya has cultivated deep expertise on the funder landscape, nonprofit structures, compliance, change management, philanthropy technology, and knowledge management, allowing her to navigate strategic efforts on many fronts, including diversity, equity, and inclusion issues.

During our discussion, Satonya discussed how foundations could leverage their internal strategies, board relationships, and outgoing grants to create sustainable, successful capacity building strategies to support their communities.

Watch the recording here!

Why is capacity building important?

Capacity building is a process that is essential to organizational sustainability and success. It helps to bridge the gap between organizations and their goals by providing resources, knowledge, and tools to enable staff to work effectively and efficiently. Capacity building activities can range from training on specific skills to the implementation of new processes or technologies in a variety of operational categories such as HR, finance, IT, marketing, fundraising, and more. By improving the ability of staff to work on projects in these key areas, capacity building helps to create a more effective and efficient organization. Capacity building activities help create organizational sustainability and resiliency, allowing nonprofits to better execute their mission in the long-term.

In today’s philanthropic landscape, capacity building is essential to the success and sustainability of any organization. Capacity building is an investment in the future of the organization, as it equips employees with the skills and knowledge to meet the increasing demands and challenges in the community.

What can foundations do differently?


As the philanthropic sector increasingly turns its attention to capacity building, funders have an opportunity to strengthen the infrastructure of their grantees in meaningful and lasting ways. Capacity building is an essential part of creating sustainable change.

In our discussion, Satonya shared her experience with PEAK and recommendations on how grantmakers could more effectively deliver capacity building resources. She provided a few critical lessons for grantmakers to embrace as they considered more innovative, modern approaches to meeting community needs.

1. Build authentic relationships in the community.

Relationships between nonprofits and foundations should not come from a transactional space, where funders assume that they are well-known by all of the community. Similarly, while organizations may be 'new to you,' this does not necessarily mean that they are new; they may be organizations that have been in the community for decades, with chronic underinvestment by traditional institutions.

It is important for funders to be personable and introduce themselves and their organization to nonprofit organizations working on the front lines for their community. Create a safe, authentic place to listen, ask questions, and forge a long-term relationship. Position yourself as a potential funder and partner of their work.

In your conversation, introduce yourself and include:

  • Who are you and what is your organization?
  • What's your 'why' - why this community?
  • Why are you interested in this mission?
  • What can you do to support nonprofits in this community? What solutions are they looking for?
  • What do nonprofits in the community think of you and your work? It is important to create a space of trust for nonprofits to comfortably tell you what they think and how you can build a path forward together.

"Walk in and say, 'I know what you're doing, I have the solutions, I can fund you.' But understanding whether you have created space for your grantees, nonprofits, and communities to tell you what they think of you and your work is important." - Satonya

Nonprofits are always in perpetual states of crisis. There has to be a lot of listening to see and hear from one another, be present, and build a trusting working relationship to be successful. Funders have to be willing to put in the time to build a sustainable relationship.

"Create that time and space for you and the nonprofit to build that relationship and trust so you can know more about one another....Call out what they're doing that impresses you...We need to do deep work together." - Satonya

2. Use your positional power for good.

"You've been hired by your organization because you have the competencies and knowledge. If you're at an organization where you're the one contact grantees interact with, then you're a frontline worker, and you need to show up. You are their front face to the organization, and the impression you leave with your grantee will stick with them." - Satonya

There are a wide variety of power dynamics long rooted in philanthropy that must be dismantled by funders and nonprofits. Power dynamics should be analyzed and utilized effectively. This is why it's critical for funders to go to the community, rather than wait for nonprofits to take money out of their fundraising budgets, allocate time, and travel to their offices.

Funders should remember what they bring to the table and do their research on the community, their potential grantees, and those in the community doing similar work. Ask questions and know the landscape before you meet. Be prepared to provide potential funding and partnership opportunities, and to introduce them to other funding institutions in the community.

Be proactive and respectful towards nonprofits - how are you positioning the conversations to understand the nonprofit's needs? Have you observed the work they do and the landscape of what's happening?

"It's not just about a program grant. What other tools have you put in the toolbox as options for them? Foundations can do a million things." - Satonya

3. Go beyond the grant.

A human connection makes all the difference. Nonprofits are not simply seeking financial support - they are looking for an advocate for their community. What other commitments can you make toward strengthening organizations?

It is the program officer's responsibility and accountability to know of all the solutions the foundation provides and be prepared to offer them. Foundations are not only the source of monetary support; they can provide support in a variety of ways as a connector and endorser, including:

  • Providing access to Catchafire and critical capacity support year-round
  • Providing endorsement on a different grant the nonprofit is applying to
  • Amplifying a nonprofit's annual report and publications on their marketing channels
  • Sharing a nonprofit's job postings online to help them fill their staffing needs
  • Connecting nonprofits to other foundations, media contacts, and organizations that can help them promote and support their organization's mission

Compared to other institutions in the social sector, foundations have the ability to move very nimbly and flexibly to support their communities. They can find steps to work as effective intermediaries, and draw on their capacities and expertise to support nonprofits in a variety of sustainable ways.

"Find the superpower within. Ask for help. We are incubators for change." - Satonya

To this end, funders must develop long-term relationships with grantees and create grant programs that emphasize sustainable capacity building support. Funders can also provide technical assistance, training, and coaching to grantees, and dedicate staff to focus exclusively on capacity building. This allows grantees to build their skills, knowledge, and resources while working on their key objectives.

"Be a leverager, a connector, and use your positional power for good. If you are feeling not seen, heard, or activated, whether at a nonprofit, funding institution, or something in between, you have something folks need. You have an ability to change the game, remove barriers, and be an advocate and voice for others. You have so many things in your toolbox that you can activate to help change everything for good." - Satonya

4. It is important to embrace a growth mindset and keep learning.

Neither foundations nor nonprofits know everything they need to know. This is why conversations between the two are so critical. It's important to embrace learning and trying new approaches to do things differently. Nonprofits have a wide variety of needs, and foundations have a plethora of tools and expertise to draw from and help. Funders should create a culture of continuous learning and experimentation within their foundation, and develop capacity building initiatives tailored to the specific needs of the grantees.

In addition to providing resources and technical assistance, funders should also invest in organizational infrastructure and system development. Foundations should utilize data and analytics to measure the accountability and effectiveness of capacity building initiatives. An assessment of data and feedback loops will help them better understand the effectiveness of their efforts and gain insights into the impact their work is having on their grantees. Finally, funders should create a space for grantees to collaborate and share best practices, and encourage collaboration across sectors to foster capacity building and innovation. By conducting and leveraging these strategies, funders can create meaningful and sustainable change.

"When foundations know better, we do better, and then nonprofits are better off." - Satonya

Get involved with Catchafire


Capacity building is an important part of any organization’s success, and Catchafire is at the forefront of this movement. 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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Read more about our foundation partners on our blog.

Interested in donating your time and talent to support your community? Sign up today to volunteer and directly support nonprofits. Lend your expertise and boost capacity of nonprofit staff through one hour consultation calls and longer-term projects. Projects range from 1-50 hours across several categories such as design, marketing, operations, finance, IT, and more.

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