For non-profit organizations, the most compelling definition of capacity is how much good that organization can do in the world. How much of a difference your organization can make in the community you serve is the essential measurement of capacity.

What is Your Organization’s Capacity?

As a mission driven organization — which all nonprofits are — the question of capacity is and should be closely aligned with how well and to what extent you can carry out your mission.

How many people do you serve? How big of an impact do you have? Asked another way, who would suffer if your organization went out of business?

Your organization’s capacity to do good work is limited by your organization’s infrastructure, management, governance, staff and financial resources. Considered together, they create a web that both enables and limits how much good your organization can achieve.

A Quick Thought Exercise…

Someone once told me that “Every organization is perfectly constituted to be exactly the way it is.” Think about that for a moment. All of the elements that determine your organization’s capacity fit together and are held in place by the interaction of the various elements.

Change one of those in a radical way and the others will change, too. Change the leadership, for example. Change the service model. Improve the systems. Reshape the board. Any one of these changes (and many more) are likely to have profound effects on the capacity of your organization.

In this guide, you’ll learn about capacity building from a fundraising point of view. Raising more money is just one element that effects your organization’s capacity. But like all of the other elements, if you raise significantly more money, it may well reshape the capacity of your organization to do more good.

Quick Links — Jump ahead to learn about different aspects of capacity building campaigns:

Read on and learn about capacity building campaigns, the ways to use capital campaigns to build capacity, as well as best practices when doing capacity fundraising.

What Are Capacity Building Campaigns?

What Are Capacity Building Campaigns?

A straightforward definition of capacity building campaigns is using capital campaign tactics to build capacity for your organization in ways other than funding large projects. But let’s start with the basics.

You probably think of capital campaigns as campaigns to raise money to build a new building. That’s what they are often used for. But think instead about raising capital to increase your organization’s capacity.

Money raised for capacity may be invested in a variety of things that, taken together, are designed to increase your operations. Here are some standard items you might consider for a capacity campaign:

  • Building projects (new, additions, renovations, repairs)
  • Equipment additions and upgrades
  • Technology additions and upgrades
  • Staff training
  • Organizational assessment and planning
  • Communications planning and implementation
  • New program startup funds
  • Additional staff

Some of these are one-time investments. Others will increase the ongoing operating budget. You can easily imagine that if your organization raised money to invest in all of these elements, you’d be able to expand your overall capacity.

Some organizations include many of the items on this list in their annual operating budget when they see the opportunity to do so.

However, you might cluster several capacity building projects together and raise a larger amount of money through a Capacity Campaign. This is a fundraising campaign modeled after building campaigns, but with a broader set of campaign objectives.

The Many Benefits of a Capital Campaign

Capital campaigns are major fundraising initiatives that occur only every few years. Typically, an organization can raise 5 to 10 times the amount it raises from philanthropic sources each year.

While they are labor intensive, the ambitious size and scope of a capital campaign inspires donors to give more generously and many organizations are willing to invest in additional staff and consultants.

Capital campaigns rely on a relatively few major gifts for their success. They are organized to involve donors who have the ability to make very large gifts. In doing so, the campaign deepens relationships with the most important funding partners.

Unlike annual fundraising, capital campaigns grow out of ambitious plans developed through a strategic planning process. When those plans include a large building project, organizations turn to capital campaigns.

Employ “Campaign Thinking” to Build Capacity

But you can also use the campaign model for an ambitious capacity building campaign that may not include a new building. Doing this encourages the executive staff and board to think exponentially bigger than during normal times.

“What would it take,” they might ask, “to expand our organization’s capacity enough so that we can address the need in our community?”

Asking a board to think as though there were no economic constraints stimulates a different kind of exploration and may set the stage for a capacity building campaign structured in the same way they might organize a capital campaign.

Why Should Your Organization Consider Capital Campaign Style Capacity Building?

To coalesce many of the investments you would need to ramp up your organization’s capacity gives you the opportunity to shape a large campaign that you can structure as though it were a traditional capital campaign.

Grouping various needs in increasing capacity will set the foundation for a strong case for support. Because, when seen as a whole, the benefits work together to geometrically increase the capacity of the organization to carry out its mission.

With a clear and compelling case, you will be able to approach your largest donors for generous gifts in a way that you seldom can if you invest in small capacity projects year after year.

While you will continue to raise recurring funds year after year, you will organize an ambitious campaign to ramp up the entire operation of your organization. Doing this will breathe new life into your work and throughout the organization.

5 Opportunities to Use Capital Campaigns to Build Capacity

5 Opportunities to Use Capital Campaigns to Build Capacity

Below are just some of the elements that you might cluster together for your capacity building campaign.

1. Evaluation, Analysis, and Planning

Your capacity building campaign can be used to fund outside expertise and organizational analysis as an investment in discovering ways to operate more efficiently going forward.

2. Fundraising

When you are planning a campaign with a big goal, you will be able to justify increasing your development staff.

For example, an investment of $100,000 in staff and systems may seem large in the context of annual fundraising when your fundraising goal is $300,000. But if you are planning to raise $3,000,000 or more through a large campaign, the investment in fundraising staff is easy to justify.

3. Equipment and Technology

Nonprofit organizations often delay and defer bringing outdated systems and technology up to date. But equipment and technology changes very quickly, and in some cases, upgrades can make a huge difference in program efficiency and effectiveness.

4. Start-Up Funds for New Programs

You can use a capacity campaign to provide seed money to develop a pilot program or actually fund a new program for several years.

5. Communications and Outreach

If you are planning to increase the capacity of your organization, you might include money to rebrand and create communications materials and channels so you can better reach new and existing audiences and build organizational capacity going forward.

Best Practices for Capital Campaign Capacity Building

Best Practices for Capital Campaign Capacity Building

To increase the capacity at your organization, consider these three best practices above all else.

Think From Abundance, Rather Than Scarcity

To shape a capacity building campaign, start by gathering key stakeholders together and ask them to think seriously about what it would take to increase the impact of what your organization does. What holds you back? What might you invest in that would make you more efficient and effective?

You may be surprised by the ideas that come up. Together, they might well serve as the basis for a capacity building campaign that will unlock your organization’s potential.

Don’t Wait Until A Capital Campaign Is Needed

You don’t have to wait for a big building project to raise money for capacity. If your organization conducts a capital campaign every 15 years, for example, you might plan two smaller capacity campaigns during the interval.

Utilize Capital Campaign Resources for Inspiration

The Capital Campaign Toolkit provides a great many resources to help you plan a capital campaign. Most of these can easily be adapted to a Capacity Campaigns.

Look, for example, at the Step-by-Step Guide to Capital Campaigns, or check out our deep-dive post, The Ultimate Guide to Capital Campaigns.

In addition, we offer a variety of additional resources (most of which are free) in our Campaign Resources section.


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