Grantmakers are known for asking questions. We ask our nonprofit applicants to tell us about their mission, programs, budgets, and ability to sustain the programs that we fund. We also try to understand the challenges they face and the plans to overcome those challenges. Sometimes, however, we can learn even more by listening to the questions they ask us.
For a group of funders in the Capital Region of Upstate New York, the realization about the need for capacity building training became clear during a regional funder networking meeting. “We compared notes and realized that we were all getting the same requests to hire consultants for board development, strategic planning, fund development, and organizational assessment,” said Jackie Mahoney, formerly of the Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region. Nonprofit leaders of small-to-medium sized organizations wanted training to improve the infrastructure and operation of their organizations, but they did not have room in their operating budgets to attend conferences where they could get that training.
This realization led to the creation of a 10-member funder collaborative to offer a capacity building training series free of charge to nonprofit organizations in the greater Capital Region. Funders each contributed from $500 to $5,000 (depending on their grantmaking budget capability) to create a pool of funds to launch the first Capacity Building Mini-Grant Program in 2014. The training series included two equally important features: four high-quality training sessions on topics requested by local organizations, and a competitive mini-grant program that allowed attendees to apply for grants up to $2,500 to put into practice what they learned in the training series.
The series included both broad topics like “Stronger Together: When Do Strategic Alliances Make Sense?” and the more specific, such as “Donor Management Software: Finding the Right System for Your Nonprofit.” Pooling funder resources also allowed Capital Region organizations to hear from nationally known speakers like Andy Goodman, who spoke about “Change the Story, Change the World” and the value of nonprofit organization storytelling.
This year, the funder collaborative will offer its sixth Capacity Building Training Series. The members of the funder collaborative don’t have to ask questions about whether this training is still needed. Like the training series offered in years before, it is completely full with a waiting list.
Leslie Cheu is executive director of The Troy Savings Bank Charitable Foundation in Troy, NY.