I’ve heard a lot of talk about “capacity building” in the philanthropy community over the last few years. Funders like to throw the phrase around, but we don’t often talk about what it means to us versus what it might mean to nonprofits.
When I think about capacity building, I think about helping nonprofits strengthen their ability to do their work well and to be able to plan for the future. But how do MeHAF’s nonprofit partners think of capacity building? In 2014 I began reaching out to Maine’s health policy and advocacy nonprofits to find out.
Over the course of the last two years I spent time reaching out to the health advocacy community through facilitated discussions, one-on-one conversations and even a social network analysis of the sector.
What I learned is that Maine has a highly effective health advocacy community, and most organizations face the barriers of lack of time, unpredictable funding and few opportunities to meaningfully connect with their peers. The community has no problem picking up the phone to collaborate on important issues, but their limited time and resources only allow that collaboration to go so far.
The very nature of advocacy work is so immediate that organizations often aren’t able to focus on longer term goals to strengthen their organization. I heard from several nonprofit leaders that, given the time and resources, they would love to work on staff and board development, financial planning and strengthening strategic relationships.
In response to what MeHAF learned from health advocacy organizations, we recently launched a pilot program that will create the time and space for these nonprofits to address some of the challenges they’ve identified. This July, seven health policy and advocacy organizations will come together for a two-day Financial Leadership Clinic lead by the Nonprofit Finance Fund. These seven organizations will learn together as a peer cohort about strategies to align finance with mission and how to tell their financial stories to their boards, members and funders.
MeHAF brought in the Nonprofit Finance Fund because of its focus on shared learning and achieving mission through finance, a combination that speaks to some of the challenges we learned about from Maine’s health advocacy organizations.
MeHAF’s current work on advocacy capacity building has been almost entirely shaped by the conversations we’ve had with the nonprofits we hope to strengthen. They helped us define what capacity building really means and they strengthened MeHAF’s capacity to develop programs that truly meet the needs of our nonprofit partners.
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