What is a capacity-building grant for?

Grantmakers are amazingly consistent in their definition of “capacity-building,” but grantseekers are often unsure of what fits into that category.

“Capacity-building grants are not about expanding an organization’s services, adding a new program, or renovating a building,” said Barbara Floersch, executive director of The Grantsmanship Center, in Los Angeles, Calif. “They are about strengthening an organization’s infrastructure, management, and governance.”

Strong Organizations Have Greater Impact. By building the competence and professionalism of an organization, funders are investing in better results for beneficiaries. Although these grants won’t produce direct client outcomes, the idea is that improved internal systems will support improved or continued high-quality service to beneficiaries.

Capacity-Building Projects. Examples of such activities include assessment of management and governance systems; evaluation of service effectiveness; strategic planning; board or staff development; fund development planning; establishment of a fund development program; succession planning; mergers or restructuring; technology upgrades; establishing a volunteer management system; external communication strategies. “This is one of the few types of proposals in which the expected outcome will be a product,” said Floersch.

Beware the Self-Indicting Proposal: Capacity-building grants are meant to strengthen solid organizations, not perform CPR on those that are failing. “These grants are meant to make good organizations better,” said Floersch. “You’ve got to start from a position of strength.” If your proposal indicates that your board and administration have been asleep at the wheel, funders aren’t likely to want to intervene.

Even though capacity-building grants are about internal organizational systems, be sure to help the funder understand how the project will eventually help your organization’s beneficiaries. “The only reason your organization and its systems matter is because of the work you do for others,” said Floersch. “Keeping that idea in the forefront is important in any proposal.” ©Copyright The Grantsmanship Center 2015. All rights reserved.