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Targeted capacity building support empowers rural nonprofits

Targeted capacity support empowers rural nonprofits - cover-min
In the vast and varied landscape of the United States, rural communities represent a unique and vital part of the national fabric. Home to approximately 60% of the population according to the latest U.S. Census data, these areas are the backbone of America, rich in tradition, natural resources, and resilience. Yet, despite their significant presence and contribution, rural nonprofits—which work tirelessly to uplift and support these communities—often face systemic disadvantages. These organizations grapple with a chronic lack of visibility, funding, and resources, especially when compared to their urban counterparts.

There is a critical need for tailored capacity building support for small, rural-based nonprofit organizations. By understanding the unique challenges these organizations face and the crucial roles they play, grantmakers and foundations can more effectively direct their resources to foster sustainable growth and equity across rural communities.

Rural communities in the United States: structural barriers and gaps

Targeted capacity support empowers rural nonprofits - 1-min

Members of rural communities face significant barriers that impact quality of life and the social determinants of health, affecting the ability of families to make ends meet.

The ALICE threshold (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) refers to households that earn above the federal poverty level but are unable to afford the basic necessities where they live. This impacts access to critical elements such as health care, child care, rent, food, and employment. In 2022, 8.5 million households in rural communities were recorded as living below the ALICE threshold–45% of the rural population in the United States.* 

Rural nonprofits are on the frontlines providing direct services to support community members and improve neighborhood outcomes. These nonprofits face significant hurdles to support their local communities. This includes:

  • Funding shortfalls: Rural nonprofits often struggle to attract funding. Philanthropic support is less prevalent here, and the funding that does exist is usually fragmented and inconsistent.
  • Visibility issues: With fewer media outlets and less attention from policymakers and large funders, rural nonprofits fight an uphill battle in gaining the recognition necessary to attract support and influence change.
  • Resource scarcity: Access to the tools necessary for nonprofit capacity building—such as training, technology, and professional development opportunities—is significantly limited.

The importance of investing in capacity support for rural nonprofits

How employee volunteer programs help reduce turnover rates - 2-min-1

Building capacity for rural nonprofits is not just about sustaining these organizations, but is crucial for the vitality of the communities they serve. Rural nonprofits often fulfill essential roles in:

  • Education: They work to enhance educational facilities, provide supplemental programs, and offer scholarships or other support to students.
  • Civic engagement: These organizations help amplify the voices of rural residents in political and social spheres, ensuring their concerns are heard and addressed.
  • Health care access: Many rural nonprofits focus on increasing access to medical services, organizing health awareness campaigns, and delivering direct health services where they are otherwise unavailable.
  • Housing services: Access to affordable and adequate housing is a significant challenge in many rural areas. Rural nonprofits often assist in developing housing policies, advocating for funding, and providing direct assistance to individuals and families in need of stable housing.
  • Child care: Providing access to affordable and reliable child care is another critical area where rural nonprofits can make a significant difference. This support helps parents maintain employment and ensures that children have safe, enriching environments in which to grow.
  • Employment support: Job training, networking, mentorship, and linking residents with employment opportunities are vital services provided by many rural nonprofits, helping to strengthen the local economy.
  • Food security: Addressing food insecurity is another area where these organizations play a pivotal role. Nonprofits support food banks, develop local agriculture initiatives, and provide nutrition education to improve community health.

Building capacity for rural nonprofits multiplies their impact, enabling them to serve more effectively and advocate more robustly for their communities. Nonprofit capacity building is an investment in the community's long-term health and prosperity.

How Catchafire provides critical capacity support for rural nonprofits 

Catchafire’s platform connects over 100,000 skilled volunteers from around the world with nonprofits needing critical support in areas such as marketing, finance, and IT. Without leaving their local community, nonprofits can unlock a global network of talented professionals ready to lend their expertise. This connectivity to talent opens up frontiers, and allows nonprofits to access the support they need to strengthen their operations and programming for their communities.

Catchafire’s capacity building resources not only assists nonprofits in completing essential projects, but also builds their long-term capacity by:

  • Enhancing skills and knowledge: Nonprofits gain access to experts in fields ranging from web design and financial planning to marketing and strategic planning, which can significantly elevate their operational and programmatic capabilities. Many volunteers go on to become repeat volunteers, informal advisors, donors, and board members, creating long-term relationships with impact that grows over time. Nonprofit staff gain expertise, training, and project support in areas they may have skills gaps in.
  • Expanding networks: By connecting with professionals across various industries, rural nonprofits can develop lasting relationships that open doors to new resources, perspectives, and opportunities.
  • Increasing efficiency: With support from volunteers on Catchafire, nonprofit staff can focus more resources on their core mission rather than administrative tasks and operational inefficiencies. 

Nonprofit spotlight: the impact of Catchafire’s capacity support 

How employee volunteer programs help reduce turnover rates - 3-min-1

Located in Olean, New York, a town with a population of 12,000, the Southern Tier Health Care System strives to remove barriers to health care and improve the health and wellness of the rural communities they serve. For over 25 years, the nonprofit has worked to address the health and wellness needs of 250,000 residents throughout Allegany, Cattaraugus, and Chautauqua counties. 

Since 2020, the nonprofit has received support on 52 projects from volunteers on Catchafire, including needs such as data and analytics, marketing strategy, finance, and IT. 


"We loved working with Herbert! In addition to helping with our organizational budget, he was able to prepare a budget projection spreadsheet that we will be able to utilize for years to come. He spent the time to go over the spreadsheet with our bookkeeper so that she can fully understand how to continue utilizing this invaluable resource."

Donna K.
President and CEO, Southern Tier Health Care System


Volunteers on Catchafire have donated 993 hours, contributing to over $159,000 in nonprofit value. This frees up the organization’s staff to focus on delivering their mission and scaling access to health care. 

"I cannot speak highly enough about Mindy. She produced a ready to publish case study that detailed our organization's impact with our Safe Sleep Program. She was professional, prompt, and delightful to work with, and we can only hope we get the opportunity to work with her again. We cannot thank her enough."

Donna K.
President and CEO, Southern Tier Health Care System


For RootED NWA, capacity support helps them focus on supporting under-resourced families in Northwest Arkansas, with the goal of empowering parents to become active participants in their children’s education. 


"Working with Judith was a real treat. Her thoughtful and strategic approach to carrying out the mission of RootED Northwest Arkansas is a real tribute to how much she cares for her community. I have learned a considerable amount from her during the project and am thankful to know there are people in the world like her that are willing to contribute their time in order to help others."

Scott T.


Volunteers on Catchafire have lent their talent over 300 hours in areas such as website development, graphic design, and data collection. 

Carters Crew empowers and educates the most vulnerable youth and their families in central Arkansas by ensuring that they have access to the education, resources, and supplies that they need to be successful.

Volunteers on Catchafire don’t just provide one-time support; the skills and knowledge that they share is an invaluable resource and investment in professional development for nonprofit staff. For Amber, the organization’s founder and executive director, a public speaking project helped her refine her presentation and speaking skills and build her confidence in order to better engage audiences and deliver key messages.


"Rhonda is great at the work that she does. She helped me prepare for a big meeting with the Supreme Court of Arkansas. Rhonda showed me different techniques to feel more comfortable when I am in front of a group of people…The work that Rhonda did with me will ultimately benefit the youth and families that we serve. I plan to keep in touch with Rhonda because she is the first speaking coach who has made me feel like she was my friend. She genuinely cared about the work she was doing with me knowing that it was for the greater good of the organization.”

Amber G.
Founder and Executive Director, Carters Crew


Catchafire’s approach to organizational capacity building builds long-term resiliency and professional development for staff. In addition to volunteer support, Catchafire offers nonprofit coaching, monthly training, BIPOC and executive leadership networking groups, and templates that offer project support.

Through these resources, rural nonprofits are able to optimize their operations, strengthen their programming, and expand their impact for their local communities. 

Request a demo

By investing in rural nonprofits through Catchafire, grantmakers and foundations can expand their reach and community impact. Request a demo today to learn more about partnering with Catchafire.
*Sources: ALICE Threshold, 2022; American Community Survey, 2022

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