In our first Advisory Letter, we talked about defining and sharing values (via mission and vision statements) to stimulate peoples’ desire to help your nonprofit do more. This letter discusses how to follow-up by getting people to start thinking about what they can do to help you build capacity by involving them in developing goals, strategies and action plans.

You might begin this process by discussing what kind of capacity growth would be most helpful to fulfilling more of your nonprofit’s mission. This could be the total number of people served, the total number of services delivered; or it could be a particular kind of service delivered to a particular type client. For ECofOC, it is the number of nonprofit managers that we are actively coach (rather than the number of people subscribing to our Advisory Letter or attending our workshop). Your nonprofit first needs to decide what kind of capacity increase has the greatest leverage on your mission and vision.

The next issue is how to measure the capacity that you want to increase. A good measure should be easy to generate from existing records, should be definable by a simple and definitive rule set, and should be a reasonably good indicator of overall progress. It does not need to be a perfect indicator of a desirable result in every instance and nonprofits should not invest a lot of energy trying to agree on a perfect measure. ECofOC’s simplistic measure is the number of signed coaching contracts where the coach has plans to do some more work with their client.

The final step is finding out what the current value of your measure is, and what you want it to be in the next one, two and three years. ECofOC had 11 active contracts at the end of 2003. Our goal was to have 24 by the end of 2004 and 36 by year-end 2004. The three year planning horizon seems to help people think “outside the box”, but also seems to keep them grounded in reality.

Your capacity building goal is a measure of your nonprofit’s commitment to its mission and vision. If a nonprofit develops and publicizes a mission and vision, but makes no effort to move towards it, people may wonder if the statements are meaningless words created for the sake of appearances. Setting a challenging goal gets peoples’ minds involved in capacity building; first in deciding on the goal, and then thinking about how to achieve it. The more thought that people invest; the more likely they are to do something to help you achieve your goal.

Motivational experts tell us that if a goal is modest, it will be a “no-brainer” that won’t energize anyone. If it is too high, people will decline to get involved because failure is so likely. If the goal has about a 50% chance of success, it is likely to be seen as challenging, maximizing the likelihood that people will start thinking about how to achieve it. Challenging goals typically increase capacity by 25% per year, doubling capacity every three years (but could fall anywhere in the range of 15-45% per year).

If you decide to have a “challenging” capacity building goal, people are likely to start talking and thinking about strategies that can make it more likely that the goal can be achieved. You can help them focus their thinking by suggesting some strategic areas to concentrate on. Here are ECofOC’s six strategic focus areas:

  • Develop alliances with the government agencies, foundations, corporations and other nonprofit organizations that can increase our capacity to fulfill more of our mission.
  • Develop publicity that attracts the people to our nonprofit who can help us fulfill more of our mission (prospective Executive Coaches, committee members, donors, and clients).
  • Develop our infrastructure’s capacity by training and effectively deploying a growing number of increasingly satisfied Executive Coaches and committee members.
  • Develop qualified clients who best enable us to fulfill our vision and mission.
  • Develop donors to give us the diversified funding sources needed for sustainable growth.
  • Evaluate and improve our capacity building strategies and action plans.

Having several strategic focus areas helps you involve more people with diverse interests and skills in a capacity building effort. You might ask each participant to think about their plan of action for how they can use their skills and interests to help your nonprofit build its capacity in the strategic area that most interests them. A “search, adapt and reapply” approach is likely to lead them to strategies that deliver desired results most efficiently and reliably. The literature, training courses and colleagues in other nonprofits are all good sources of strategies that might have worked well in situations similar to yours.

Sharing values (mission and vision) can capture a person’s heart. A challenging goal can follow-up on their desire to help by getting them to think about your capacity building goals and strategies, and their ideas for how they can help you achieve your goal. Our next letter will discuss how to take the final step of getting people to act on their ideas for helping you build capacity.