Ready and Willing Lens

There are lots of reasons — good and bad — why a grantee might not want to engage in capacity building. Sometimes it’s about timing: the executive director doesn’t have sufficient board or staff support for the capacity-building effort, or the organization is too busy focused on other things, like a major program initiative or a capital campaign. Sometimes the executive director doesn’t see or understand the capacity-building issues. While an organization may need some encouragement to undertake capacity building, especially on trickier issues like governance, ensuring actual buy-in from the organization is key. As one funder said, “Bottom line: If they don’t buy in, they will prioritize other things and the capacity building will not work.”

Nonprofits agree that it’s hard to make capacity building successful when a funder is the driving force. We heard, “When a funder dominates or drives, leadership will often acquiesce rather than debate issues to try to bring consensus or find a compromise. Then, staff is left to carry out a project that does not have the support it needs across organizational leadership or from the community.”

Understanding readiness means also being aware of the current organizational state of a grantee, so that the capacity building can be tailored to this grantee’s internal circumstances. This means having a sense of: Where is this grantee on the spectrum of emerging to mature? What does its leadership structure and staffing look like? How is it doing with finances and on other indicators of organizational health? Is the organization ready and willing or just the funder’s primary contact person? What’s key is approaching this inquiry so that grantees understand it’s about setting up their capacitybuilding effort for success. As one funder said, “Meeting organizations where they are will dictate what makes capacity building successful, and that’s sometimes more difficult than the actual capacity-building work itself.”