Building Capacity in Partnership with Grantees

Laurel and Katie from Jane Addams Resource Corporation explore their donor base

Some thoughts from our Executive Director, Clare Butterfield, after our first capacity building workshop for grantees.

Now that I’m on the funding side of the social sector, my finger hovers over the send button for a minute for any invitation that’s going out to our grantees. I’ve been a grantee for enough years to know that invitations from funders get special attention, and that the folks at the nonprofits we support feel as if they should say yes, even when we say something is optional. In that equivocal spirit, we offered up our first capacity building opportunity for grantees of the Christopher Family Foundation. We figured that we’d be on solid ground, value-wise, if we started out with a focus on individual donor cultivation. We asked Carolyn Nopar, an unequivocal expert, to bring a one-day version of her fundraising boot camp.

Laurel and Katie from Jane Addams Resource Corporation explore their donor base

Funding relationships can be transactional. Grantees need the money to operate, and they devote time to figuring out how to get it from their funders. Funders want something to change, but it’s not our place to actually operate the projects. At their best, though, these relationships are true partnerships. We need each other, and the world needs all of us. In offering capacity building opportunities we are hoping to make our relationship with our grantees more balanced, and more mutual. So it probably made sense to start with a focus on the funding relationship.

Seven organizations with active grants were able to send development and program staff to this inaugural workshop, and each left with a segmented donor base, their next development focus, and a plan for outreach. Evaluations (which were anonymous, but yes, we were still in the room) told us that participants found their time well spent. “Carolyn is a seasoned professional who has distilled her experience into an engaging, informative program useful for professionals at all levels,” said one of our participants. We thought so too.

Carolyn Nopar and Molly Truglia

By offering this kind of program along with monetary support what we mean to be saying to our grantees is that we value them, we value what they do, we have some insight into the fact that it’s hard work, and we’re here to strengthen them for that journey in every way that we can. Including hummus and chocolate, plenty of coffee, and some learning opportunities for all of us.

Next up is building board strength and diversity. And from there we hope to have launched a real conversation among us and our grantee organizations on where to go next to be most helpful. If you get an invitation to one, we really mean it when we say they’re optional. We know you’re busy trying to change the world. But we hope they’re worth doing, too.