Capacity Building | Public Lands Every Day

Capacity building strengthens a nonprofit’s ability to operate more effectively at an organizational level. To understand capacity building, a nonprofit must think about how it operates, not about a program or initiative. Capacity building is strategic and requires reflection on organizational strengths and weaknesses.

Capacity building can take many forms, including, but not limited to:

  • strategic planning 
  • marketing and communications 
  • leadership capacity (board or executive) 
  • improved fundraising 
  • assessments 
  • staff training 

Your capacity building project should have an impact on your organization first, then on the land you serve. In thinking about capacity building needs, an organization may ask:

  • Does this activity allow my whole organization to operate more effectively, or does it have a limited effect on a program or initiative? For example: Improving fundraising skills affects the entire organization over a long period. But having a fundraising dinner for a program only affects that program for that fiscal year. 
  • What are the major operational areas that need attention and will help the organization grow and achieve its mission? For example: There may be a need for financial management software, a donor database and upgraded communications materials. Not being able to do them all, an organization must select one that is going to move them forward strategically. 
  • Is there a bottleneck in the organization that is stalling growth? For example: An organization may need to recruit new volunteers, but not have a way to reach the local community, such as a website. 

What would qualify as capacity building?

With so many different ideas of what builds an organization’s capacity to do their work, we offer these examples of what this grant would and would not fund. These examples are meant to be helpful and not limit your ideas. If you have questions, email us and we will try to answer questions about your project and whether it would qualify as capacity building.

What qualifies . . .

A Friends Group wants to hold several volunteer events at their local state park, but have not had much success in the past with recruiting volunteers. They want to send their staff member to a workshop on how to recruit volunteers and give them a positive experience. They need funding for the workshop and travel.

This qualifies because it is building their long-term capacity for recruiting and retaining volunteers. It also has the potential to increase their volunteer base, help them better serve the public land and connect with their community more effectively.

What does not qualify . . .

A Friends Group wants to put on a large volunteer event at their local state park to pull invasive species. In order for the event to be a success, they need to buy equipment and supplies.

This would not qualify for a capacity building grant. It would be a one-time expense that is not designed to build or strengthen the organization’s overall effectiveness and long-term sustainability. This project, however, would be a great National Public Lands Day event!

What qualifies . . .

A Friends Group wants to enhance their local National Park’s environmental education programming. Not knowing whether they have the capacity or whether they will add value, they want funds to hire a consultant to do an assessment. The consultant will look at their capacity and expertise to carry out the project, what affect it would have on their long-term goals and finances as well as the park’s openness to this potential new program.

This project, though focused on program efforts, allows the group to answer key questions that would affect their current work, their long-term sustainability, their relationship with the park and their impact on the community using the park.

What does not qualify . . .

A Friends Group wants to enhance their local National Park’s environmental education programming. They want funds to hire a naturalist to create an education program centered on the wildlife in the park.

While we love to see quality environmental education, this project is focused on creating a specific program and does not build the organization’s overall capacity.


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