Conceptualizing Capacity: The Capacity Framework and Core Components

Denison Venture Philanthropy Club is starting up this academic year, and in about three weeks, the due date for our capacity-building grant will have passed (on September 21). Thus, I wanted to revisit my ongoing exploration of the academic side of capacity building.

In a previous essay, “Capacity Building: What, Why, and How”, I outlined what capacity building is, and gave my personal rationale and motivation for it, and reviewed a bit of research by Dr. Judd Pucella. If you look at “capacity” and have no idea what I’m talking about check there first.

I then moved on to discuss a McKinsey & Company report in my essay “Conceptualizing Capacity: The Capacity Pyramid”. In this essay, I will build upon the understanding of capacity outlined by Dr. Pucella, McKinsey & Company, and my personal experience by looking to The Urban Institute’s report “Building Capacity in Nonprofit Organizations” (PDF). There may be some overlap between this analysis and past ones, but bear with me. Continue reading

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The Challenges of “Great People”

Not too long ago, I finished reading David Bornstein’s book “How to Change the World: Social Entreprenuers and the Power of New Ideas”. The book is pretty neat, detailing the work of several “social entrepreneurs”, or talented people who work to solve social problems in their communities.

The book also details the non-profit organization Ashoka: Innovators for the Public and its founder Bill Drayton, who helped fund and advise these social entrepreneurs. The stories are compelling, fascinating, and inspiring tales of people overcoming obstacles to make large scale changes for the better.

What bothers me about the book, though, is while it’s called “How to Change the World”, it’s not actually a how-to book at all… at least not in any way that is immediately actionable or doesn’t involve doing a lot of reading between the lines. The key premise is that there are great people out there who have great ideas and can do great things if only we trust them and fund them.

But if you aren’t one of these great people — or worse yet, you have no idea how to find these great people and trust them and fund them — then you’re out of luck. While there’s a bit of confusion and mixed messaging throughout, the book seems to settle on the fact that not everyone can be a social entrepreneur. What are us everypeople supposed to do? Continue reading

Posted in Evaluating and Measuring, Philanthropy, Social Change, Social Entrepreneurship, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Conceptualizing Capacity: The Capacity Pyramid

In my previous essay, “Capacity Building: What, Why, and How”, I explored my personal thoughts on capacity formed from my past two years working with Denison VPC — a more detailed explanation of what capacity means, why one would want to pursue capacity-building grants as opposed other kinds of grant work, and some rules of thumb I’ve been following in trying to build capacity and look for capacity-building opportunities. For Denison Venture Philanthropy Club, capacity building is in our mission statement, our founding mission, and the goal of all our grants. Thus understanding capacity further is very important to VPC.

To get a bit more grasp on capacity, I decided to supplement my personal reflections with a bit more digging in the professional literature. The previous essay already looked at Dr. Tanya Judd Pucella‚Äôs “An Analysis of Non-profit Capacity Building in the Mid-Ohio Valley” (PDF) that outlines seven different types of capacity and makes the point that organizations often have different capacity needs within these categories.

In this essay, I’m going to assume familiarity with the definition, rationale, and general basics of capacity (see “Capacity Building: What, Why, and How”) and delve deeper into how capacity is conceptualized and understood. I will be using a report prepared for Venture Philanthropy Partners by McKinsey & Company entitled “Effective Capacity Building in Nonprofit Organizations” (PDF) that seeks to conceptualize capacity using a pyramid of “seven elements of non-profit capacity”, though a different set of seven than outlined by Dr. Pucella. I’m not going to personally vouch for this report’s accuracy or relevance to all organizations, but I will vouch for its potential usefulness in conceptualization. Continue reading

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Capacity Building: What, Why, and How

The Denison Venture Philanthropy Club has recently opened its fifth grant for proposals, inviting Licking County organizations to identify the way they would use grant funds to build their capacity to serve the community — you can get a bit more information about this in the press release, or by visiting our Denison website.

This grant, like our previous four, is a capacity-building grant. Our mission statement says “our purpose is to effect positive and meaningful change in the lives of others by increasing the capacity of local organizations”. Improving the capacity of Licking County organizations has been our founding goal, and is still our current one.

While there is definitely a lot of overlap about how VPC members think about capacity, we still all think about it differently. So upon opening for proposals, it seemed like an opportune time to do some personal thinking about how I interpret capacity building, why I think it’s an important goal for VPC, and how we go about improving capacity. I stress that these are my personal opinions, and other members of VPC might see capacity differently than I do or approach it for different reasons. Continue reading

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Ten Ways to Fund a Non-Profit

Many for-profit businesses make use of “business models”, which are shorthand for how companies earn profit and manage their business, sustain and improve, and well… just stay in business. Now, I certainly and emphatically am not one who thinks that non-profits should be more like businesses, and they couldn’t even if they wanted to. But when it comes to raising money, perhaps there is a thing or two non-profits could learn.

Forget about business models. …Enter “lending models”. These models help answer questions like: How much money do we, as a non-profit, need? Where do we get it? Why isn’t there more of it? How do we mangage, sustain, and improve? Luckily, William Landes Foster, Peter Kim, and Barbara Christiansen summarized some of their research in their article for the Standford Social Innovation Review: “Ten Non-Profit Funding Models”. There goal is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but rather to support non-profits think clearly about how to organize themselves.

Here’s a run-down of the ten lending models they developed: Continue reading

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How To Build a Community

I’ve noticed that quite a few people interested in non-profits and philanthropy are interested in fostering communities — both creating communities and improving them to make them work together. But how do we go about actually doing this? What’s there to community that we can foster and build upon? What makes a community thrive, and how do we take advantage of this to make and/or improve communities?

To answer these questions, I turned to two books:

The first is The Penguin and The Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs Over Self-Interest by Yochai Benkler. Benkler, in writing about cooperative systems (Penguins, named after the Linux Penguin) and hierarchical systems (Leviathans, named after Thomas Hobbes’s The Leviathan), studies the psychology, economics, and political science of cooperation and helps explain what makes communities stick.

The second is Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive by Bruce Schneier. Schneier studies trust and cooperation from a dizzying variety of sciences (psychology, biology, economics, anthropology, computer science, and political science). Schneier’s ultimate game is figuring out what is preventing society from falling apart, and that can be applied to building communities.

Let’s see what they got. Continue reading

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Why Don’t People Help Others More?

As Peter Singer writes in his book The Life You Can Save: “[t]he world would be a much simpler place if one could bring about social change merely by making a logically consistent moral argument”. Many people one encounters might agree that a social change movement is noble yet not want to do anything to promote it, or want to give more money to a charity yet refrain from doing so. Additional moralizing doesn’t seem to do the trick. …So what does?

Motivating people to altruism is relevant for the optimal philanthropy movement. For a start on the answer, like many things, I turn to psychology. Specifically, the psychology Peter Singer catalogues in his book. Continue reading

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