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This Week in PubHub: Capacity Building

November 18, 2010

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her last post, she looked at four reports that explored the role of philanthropy in advocacy and civic engagement.)

In my last post, I wrote about how foundations can help empower grantees and enhance their own impact by supporting advocacy and civic engagement activities. This week, PubHub is featuring reports on nonprofit capacity building, with a focus on leadership development.

With nonprofits of all kinds struggling, in a tough economic climate, to do more with less, many organizations are looking to strengthen their governance, leadership, and financial sustainability. As Fortifying LA's Nonprofit Organizations: Capacity-Building Needs and Services in Los Angeles County, a new study from the TCC Group and Weingart Foundation, makes clear, the reasons to invest in organizational capacity have never been more compelling, even as there are fewer resources to invest. Among its recommendations, the report suggests that capacity-building service providers target their efforts in areas such as high-quality coaching and peer exchange, program evaluation, and strategic learning, and that funders should form strategic alliances and pool their resources to provide more general operating and multiyear support to key nonprofits in the region.

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, one innovative initiaitive aimed to help communities and institutions in the region rebuild by "loaning out" executives. In the report Stepping Up, the Foundation for the Mid South describes its efforts -- which received additional funding from the Ford and Gates foundations -- to help the City of New Orleans rebuild its capacity after it lost almost 30 percent of its municipal employees. According to the report, the leadership, skills, and connections of the executives on loan helped strengthen the city's capacity to coordinate recovery efforts, engage displaced and/or discouraged residents, and work effectively with state and federal agencies.

In addition to bolstering organizational capacity, leadership development can also help advance social justice efforts. The Leadership Learning Community's report How to Develop and Support Leadership That Contributes to Racial Justice explains how assumptions about individualism, meritocracy, and equal opportunity in current approaches to leadership development unwittingly help maintain structural racial inequalities. The first in a series of reports from Leadership for a New Era, a collaborative research initiative, the report highlights practices that can further racial justice in organizations, communities, and society. To more effectively support racial justice leadership, the report also recommends that organizations incorporate racial justice training into their leadership development strategies, promote inclusive models of leadership that envision it as a collective process, and target resources, networks, and skills to historically disadvantaged groups.

How best to support and foster effective leadership in another historically disadvantaged group is the focus of Building LGBT Nonprofit Leadership Talent: Thoughts and Suggestions for LGBT Organizations and Funders, a 2009 publication from the Movement Advancement Project and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund. In offering practical guidance for strengthening LGBTQ leadership (define your strategic aims, recruit great people, deploy and manage people well, and retain your best people), the authors urge funders to ask their grantees what resources they need, emphasize that leadership development is an essential investment rather than a luxury, and make leadership development an integral component of their capacity-building grants programs.

How else can foundations support effective leadership development and capacity building in nonprofits? And what other competencies should nonprofits and their funders focus on in a time of limited resources and ever-increasing demand for services? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

And don't forget to visit PubHub, where you can browse publications on philanthropy and voluntarism by sub-category, including capacity building, governance, performance/failure analysis, program evaluation, and volunteerism, or browse all PubHub reports on philanthropy and voluntarism.

-- Kyoko Uchida

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