7 killer nonprofit capacity building strategies

Clear your desk…and your head. We’re going ‘big picture’ here…

Most nonprofit organizations say that they are efficient and effective, they may even feel that they are – until someone (board or donor) asks them to do more. The result? We throw our hands up and reference that we’re always ‘doing more with less’. Take a step back, and think about your systems, processes, people and how you’re all spending your time? I bet you can find, like I have, some simple things you can do to allow you, your team and your organization to accomplish more.

1. Americorps VISTA

I’m starting with the best. Americorps is a national service program akin to a ‘domestic peace corps’ and VISTA provides the equivalent of 1 FTE (sometimes more!) for FREE (some states you cost-share the first and the rest are free). There’s some paperwork involved and you MUST take the time to interview and hire right – but most of the applicants are recent-graduate-go-getter-rockstars looking for a year of service before med/grad school or an entre to the nonprofit sector. I’ve taken full advantage of this and had up to 4 FREE FULL TIME new team members – and they were fantastic. Here.The Internship Poster

2. Interns

Depending on your previous experience, you may moan at the idea of interns but I’ve had some that do more in 15 hours a week than some paid staff do in 40. The secret is matching up a project that is a perfect mix of what you (the org) needs and what the intern can excel at based on their skills, motivation and time available.

3. Self-perpetuating groups

What if we all had volunteer groups that raised money for our missions? Many of the big organizations have guilds, young professionals groups, alumni associations, ‘Friends of ____ Society’, etc. that at one time were simply an idea. It takes an incredible amount of work and leadership. Think through what that should look like, empower your top volunteers to do a strategy session with you, appoint them the executive team of this new group and challenge them to ‘own it’, build engagement avenues, a calendar of events, etc. You’ll want to remain intimately involved at the beginning but eventually you can simply liaise with the leadership.

4. What should your team stop doing?

What reports do you do that no one reads? What efforts do you make that don’t truly have an impact on your bottom line? What things WERE good ideas 10 years ago but no longer make sense? Think through all your ‘traditions’ and don’t be afraid to pull the plug (politely) on those that no longer contribute.

5. What can YOU stop doing?

This can be tough, but take a quick inventory of all the tasks on your (and your team’s) radar. It’s highly likely that a few things are very important to the organization but can/should be done by another person or department. Lobby your leadership and share how it distracts from your top goals. Not doing X will immediately open up time for Y.

6. What can be moved online?

Event RSVPs? Applications for admissions or jobs? What phone calls, emails and questions do you get regularly? Turn those answers into an FAQ on your website, intro videos or something that can replace the time you need to spend. Bring in a ‘supply chain’ expert – they’ll immediately identify places to save time (and time is $$)!

7. Invest in technology

All too often, nonprofits are forced to deal with old phones, old computers, heavy 2003 laptops, hand-me-down cell phones (if any), etc. What could you accomplish if you had the latest technology? Even those organizations that do invest a small amount of resources in tech usually get the CEO an iPad – when in reality, it’s the program staff that need them if they’re in the field, doing evaluations, in-take paperwork, etc. Above and beyond the time saved – giving your team the tools to actually do their jobs can do WONDERS for morale.

Make some time to sit back, reflect with your team and think through the above capacity building efforts. The time you spend doing so, you’ll earn back and then some.

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