Capacity Building for Nonprofits: Needs in Rural States

Nonprofit capacity building in the U.S. has grown out of its initial forays into training and technical assistance from management support organizations in the late 1970s and early 1980s in a rich combination of resources. The current national map includes more diversity with (1) a wide range of services both generalized and specific, (2) covering multiple fields and organizational problems, (3) with multiple delivery methods, (4) by a diverse group of types. from providers .

Opinion leaders in the field have written materials since 2000 that describe this changing capacity development landscape. Some of the most important works for discussion include Strengthening the capacity of non-profit organizations: basic concepts in capacity development by Donors for Effective Organizations, the Urban Institute Capacity building in non-profit organizations, National Council for Nonprofits action research work with Elizabeth Boris from the Urban Institute’s National Center for Charitable Statistics, Foundation Center interview with Barbara Kibbe, from the Packard Foundation, Carter’s Online Library McNamara and others.

In the West, capacity development has developed in several states with a somewhat different approach than that found in more urban areas of the US This approach stems from non-profit organizations working in more rural and well-resourced communities. limited. In many states, there is a rich cultural base of diverse cultures, races, and traditions of people who have lived in the region for centuries. Our culturally rich and diverse communities place a lot of emphasis on this history, relationships, and the importance of respect. Many of the nonprofits in western communities tend to be underfunded, but are committed to building services for communities. They work in regions that have environmental and non-profit ecosystems that are beautiful, purposeful, and environmentally fragile, just like the industry itself.

Learned lessons

Capacity development must be guided by the unique needs of our nonprofits, the nonprofit landscape of our region, and effective models and practices in the field. Of greater interest to both researchers and practitioners should be hybrid approaches from different states that address rural needs and provide associations between management and association-type types of support resources. This enables the sector to address both the policy and funding ‘big frames’, as well as the more specific focus issues by type of organization, size and area of ​​focus.

Nonprofit Infrastructure Mapping: A Comparison of Capacity Building and Related Resources in Texas and Beyond, studies many elements of nonprofit sector capacity and capacity building, and rates some Western states as very weak with respect to both nonprofit sector capacity and capacity building resources.

This work for nonprofits is provided at the local, regional, state and national levels by a diverse group of organizations. It is offered to a mix of types and sizes of organizations, working in different fields, and must be driven by context. Current models reflect a greater variety of service delivery systems, providing new options for rural nonprofit organizations.

Because many states and their nonprofits have limited resources and growing stressors on many nonprofits, it is important to develop hybrid approaches that adapt some of the best practices in the field to make it work. Profitable strategies must leverage and leverage the assets that exist, in ways that are culturally relevant and well suited to our unique nonprofit environment. Mixed methods approaches and leveraged funding initiatives that include state and local governments are important because our state’s nonprofits and capacity-building organizations rely heavily on government and foundation funding.


Capacity building organizations are varied and new models continue to emerge. Model capacity development organizations include: management support organizations, state associations, universities and research institutes, funders, consultants, subject-specific and field-specific capacity builders, national non-profit organizations, national associations, research institutes policies, libraries and more. Capacity building services form a diverse and ever-changing landscape. They include: widespread capacity building resources; specific support in the field (arts, health, education); and services directed to organizational work areas (board development, evaluation, fundraising).

Delivery systems include classics in the field (training, technical assistance, coaching, and consulting), as well as new formats (such as webcasts, e-training, file sharing, video conferencing, web-based resources, blogs, and peer programs. ). peer connection). The field has also developed more diverse and competitive funding, from project-specific and capacity-building grants to program-related investments, leveraged funding, community economic development funding, incubators and shared space, field-specific collaborative funding, and expanding successful models. Today’s capacity development is increasingly driven by a combination of nonprofit needs, context, capacity builder priorities, known models, funding, and the capacity builder’s leadership profile in the community.

Capacity development initiatives in the United States have become more layered, nuanced, and sophisticated in the last twenty years. Larger states with a good-sized critical mass of nonprofits, foundations, and capacity builders can often create the kind of hybrid, mixed-methods approach that the nonprofit mix needs. However, this is difficult to achieve in the more rural and resource-limited states like New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming, Maine, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Mapping needs with current resources and with models from other states provides the kind of overlap that can identify both gaps and opportunities for nonprofits in all of these states.

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