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Capacity Building Grants--When Is The Right Time for the Right Request?



When a new organization or program begins to grow it is a very exciting time. Staff is hired, systems are put in place, new clients come on board, information about the organization begins to spread into the community, a fundraising program is launched, etc. Assuming all goes well, the organization begins to grow. Enthusiasm abounds. How wonderful to see the initiative doing so well!


There is a great deal of excitement and then the next plateau is reached. Anxieties begin to creep in for very different reasons--all success related. Perhaps the systems in the organization are now overloaded. Staff members are putting in more hours and new staff may be needed. Communications have gone so well that more and more clients are using the services. And although fundraising has progressed, the demand for funding begins to outpace availability. Even more interesting is an issue that many organizations face: they have sufficient funding for services, but not enough to take care of the day to day "back office" needs (direct expenses vs indirect expenses).


This is an issue that challenges organizations many times. This has been the story for National Institutes of Health research grants for a long time--not enough support for indirect expenses (and sometimes not enough for direct expenses). However, revenues are somewhat fungible and organizations have managed their funding in creative, legal ways, relying on very important unrestricted gifts to handle the shortfall. Many times the expenses are cobbled together with limited funding and do not answer the needs at the level that promotes an efficacious outcome.


However, even considering those options, having insufficient available funds for these types of indirect costs are the kinds of things that keep responsible executive directors and leaders up at night. Yes, they awaken with worry. When one is involved day to day, it is difficult to articulate the changes that have occurred, but the reality is that the organization has reached a new and different stage of life. It has grown and the needs are becoming more pronounced. And meeting the needs is even more challenging.


While this can be a problem, it is the kind of problem that is preferable to other types that an organization can have. I call this a "positive problem" to have.


Today there is growing recognition, particularly among foundations and individuals, that organizations need more than programmatic grants. At the right time, organizations need support for capacity building opportunities.


All organizations have a priority, particularly pronounced at certain times in the organization's growth cycle, of improving the way they deliver services to their clients: to improve certain systems within the organization and the way they operate. To move forward, they may need to build capacity. This can include better tracking of data and improved use of the data gathered, expanded fundraising approaches, improved communication with clients and the general public, improved training capacity for staff, improved visibility, etc. All of this can lead to the very strategically planned goal of improving overall performance.


Any capacity building grant application must be perfectly tailored to the priorities of the funding agency as well as to the stage of life of an organization. The organization has to chart a path towards its desired plan, explain anticipated outcomes, etc.


While I thought that I would explain how a capacity building grant could be written and what it should contain, I discovered an article from The Grantsmanship Center that is so helpful and valuable that it is well worth accessing on their site. The article is entitled: Writing Proposals for Capacity Building. Susan Chandler authored the article and she notes: Funders want to improve organizations--not rescue them. Make sure you're starting from a position of strength.


If you suspect your organization is ready for a capacity building grant and the case can solidly be made, you must read Susan's article before you get started. It has to be the very Bible of capacity building grants.

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