How to Afford
All the Capacity Building You Really Need
How can you ensure all your organization’s
efforts are healthy, fully capable of creating significant improvement in your
community, when the cost is outside your reach?
We Can’t Afford
In our experience, community organizations understand what they need
to be and do, to accomplish amazing things for their communities.
They know they need to
address big picture community changes and big picture internal changes; they
need overall plans and overall strength; they need systems and succession work
and sustainability planning. They know this is what will get them past the
constant battle to put out fires, and move them on towards creating an amazing
future for their communities.
The problem is that while
organizations know what they need to do, they believe they cannot afford to do
And so, what they do instead
is to gather the small amounts of money they believe are all they can find, to
address whatever is on fire. Those bigger things - the things that can really
make a difference - remain perpetually on hold.
And of course the irony is
that until all those other issues are addressed, there will continue to be fire
after fire, and they will continue to be unable to afford
So what is the answer? The
answer is not a grant. It is not a Sugar Daddy.
Thinking Outside Your 4
The answer is to bust down the walls - the walls
that keep our organizations separate from the rest of the
Those walls tell us,
“We are indeed separate. Capacity Building is a proprietary process, to
build our own organization’s strength, so we can compete better, and
therefore work better. We must do that work on our own, so no one knows our
secrets but our consultant. Coke doesn’t share its secrets with Pepsi -
why should we share our secrets with our competition? Capacity Building is
Of course we don’t
think this consciously. But those 4 walls do affect what we look for in
Capacity Building, and how we consider we can pay for that, all because we
assume we are separate from everyone else out there doing the same work as our
How Stepping Outside those
4 Walls Makes All the Difference
When we step outside those 4
walls, we stop asking, “Where can we get a grant for this?”
Instead, we begin by asking,
“If we were to
aim at making our community an amazing place to live, who would our natural
partners be? And what if we were to learn together how we can all become strong
enough to create significantly more impact?”
The impact of that shared
approach to capacity building is almost overwhelming.
First, you will spend time with other groups who
care about what you care about.
From spending all that time together, you will
build great relationships. You will see possibilities you never saw before, far
beyond the work you initially contracted to
It is fundable - infinitely fundable. Picture 3 or
5 or 7 organizations going to a funder (or a group of funders - get them to
collaborate, too!) and asking, “We would like to all learn together and
grow strong together - to plan together, strengthen our boards together, to
learn to sustain our efforts together, and to see what could grow from
that.” Can you imagine a funder on the planet not drooling over that
The cost becomes reasonable. That is because what
might have seemed like an astronomical project for one group is now shared
among 3 or 5 or 7 groups. What a funder will see is in every way a bargain - a
comprehensive capacity building initiative that will have far more benefit than
just the mere learning, at a cost they likely would have spent had they given
each of those 5 organizations small grants for more narrowly-defined (i.e.
ineffective) capacity building efforts.
What truly is proprietary stays that way. A good
facilitator and teacher knows when to give groups work-alone time, and when to
gather them back together. There is no reason the group cannot all learn and
create their own plans, and yet come back together to share what they have
learned from that process.
The obligation on the part of the participating
organizations is nothing more than to show up and spend time together in a
spirit of possibility. None of the groups is obligated to do anything together
beyond that. And with no expectations, there are no turf issues. The groups
share their resources and spend time together, and what happens from there is
Lastly, the focus stays on the community, because
that is the reason you have all gathered together. The question of capacity
building is seen for what it is - means to an end. Which brings us back to the
outcomes we were talking with the group about in our office last week. These
weren’t outcomes for the organization; they were outcomes for the
community, using the organization merely as a vessel, the means to that
Community-Driven end result.
How do we know all these things will happen? We
have run such groups, in various shapes and forms, for organizations across the
country. It is how we run all our community-wide workshops - as shared
facilitations. The groups learn from each other, and then they spend time
applying what they are learning to their own work.
We have also been involved
with innovative long term initiatives, from Lincoln, Nebraska to Phoenix,
Arizona. These longer term initiatives allow the participants get to know and
trust each other over time. It is not unusual for some of these groups to keep
meeting for years after the project is over, having built trust relationships
So what could you accomplish for your organization and for your
community if you dreamed your biggest dream, and then stepped outside your 4
walls to share that work with others?
The box - those 4 walls that
say MINE ME US - and THEM - those walls will be our undoing. What we can
accomplish together is 10 times / 100 times / 1,000 times what we can
accomplish alone. We need each other. So let’s knock down those imaginary
walls, and let’s see what we could do if we were to do it