Building Organizational Capacity: A Simple Useful Framework

Twelve building blocks of strong nonprofit organizations

Nonprofit organization capacity building
Building strong bodies twelve ways

The importance of building organizational capacity in nonprofit management can hardly be overstated. Just a glance at the attached one–page Framework of Nonprofit Organizational Capacities reveals its essential building blocks.  Consider them the muscle, blood, guts, and hopefully soul of a healthy strong nonprofit or philanthropic organization.

A nonprofit or foundation might emphasize its Programs & Services in its public communications, but behind every Program are efforts at fundraising, staffing, skill development, interactions with stakeholders inside and outside the organization, and hopefully some attention to learning while doing.   Usually these functions are terribly under–nourished, thanks to many things that are the subject of other Articles on this site.



The attached one–page Framework of Nonprofit Organizational Capacities is meant to be a useful guide to your organization’s management and development.  And while probably any area can be strengthened, the question is what’s opportune at this time.  You can imagine a self–assessment metric attached to each of the Capacity areas asking how much you agree to the statement, “We do this really well.”  And also for each, an open–ended question asking, “In what ways could we do this better?” The more people that contribute to this self–assessment, the better.  What could make an Org Cap self–assessment opportune?   Like, a new project proposal most likely presents opportunities for improved staffing, improved communications with potential supporters, improved partnership opportunities with other organizations they’d like to partner with, and/or creating an internal organizational learning function.



If the number 1 purpose of a grant made by a foundation to a nonprofit is to help the nonprofit do programs that deliver to its beneficiaries, the number 2 purpose ought to be what could help the organization become stronger, that is, build its capacity so it can be even more effective.   Grantmaking done in this way practices what I’ve called The Mittenthal Principle; it shows the way to a productive two–fer with grant funds.  The attached one–page Framework is meant to be a useful guide to your grantmaking, identifying ways to support your grantees beyond “just program.”  You can imagine a conversation with a nonprofit you’d like to support, asking what sort of infrastructure upgrades would pair well with the program proposal its presenting to you. The attached Framework of Nonprofit Organizational Capacities would be a good prop for that discussion.  Like a new program presents opportunities for stronger boardsmanship, or staffing, or resource development.



Here’s what I mean by organizational capacity.  Ahem.   “Organizational capacity is the combined influence of an organization’s administration, assets, community linkages, and services – all combining to make progress in its mission and becoming more effective as an organization.”  Pick an organization you’re inclined to support. Perhaps you’ve noticed in their materials a place in that organization where you’d feel good about volunteering your skills.  If not your skills, your interest, which could be deepened by a conversation with the just–right person there. You might even be able to open doors for them.  And along with your skills or interests, your money; perhaps they have an Administration Upgrade fund, or a General Operations fund.  Or maybe you’ll be impressed enough from their website that you’re inclined to hit that Donate Here button.  They say every bit helps, and one can certainly make the case that conscious giving is better than the other kind.



It would seem obvious that if a nonprofit organization wants to better serve its intended beneficiaries and expand on its mission effectiveness, then it must strengthen the different working parts and processes of its own organization. It’s a good trick of evaluation design to shed light on both.

Organizational Development consultants, especially those helping with long–range planning, logic modeling, proposal development, organizational learning, or Board development, can usefully incorporate a Framework such as this into their assistance.


Download our Framework of Nonprofit Organizational Capacities here.


Originally appeared: August 2019

Number of pages: 1

Author: Steven E. Mayer