Archive for the ‘Capacity Building’ Category

Learning: The Key to Individual and Organizational Success

September 13, 2012 Leave a comment

September is a perfect time for a fresh start and the Support Center is the perfect place to begin one.  Each year at this time, I remember buying a brand new notebook for school and thumbing through it in anticipation of all the notes and ideas that would fill those blank pages.  Those days are not gone!  You can feel the same excitement by registering  for one of our Certificate Programs.

Great leaders at all levels are those with a commitment to life-long learning in its many forms.  Research has shown that adults learn best when they can apply what they learn to real life situations.   By now, many of us know that years at college and the accumulation of degrees have not always prepared us for the challenges we face every day in our nonprofit workplaces.   Enrolling in a Support Center Certificate Program is one cost and time-effective method to continue learning and improve your ability to meet the demands of your job and the needs of your nonprofit.

This month we are proud to launch the Support Center’s enhanced Certificate Programs in Leadership and Supervision, Fundraising, and Executive Leadership. Today’s nonprofit climate requires much more targeted expertise to respond to constant change.  And our Certificate Programs are now more flexible to allow you to create a curriculum to suit your interests and at the same time, add a significant credential to your resume.  Because fees are based on a sliding scale, they are also affordable to most nonprofits and individuals.

We want to thank all of our funders who contribute to our professional development programs—some through scholarships and general support, others by supporting peer learning in cohorts, and still others by supporting customized training for their grantees.

In today’s E-News, Janet Waterston, facilitator of many of the Leadership and Supervision Certificate Program courses provides us with powerful tips on supervision, and Aimee Covo, Fundraising Certificate participant speaks out on her positive experiences with the program!

Take a step towards your own professional development.  It’s the perfect time of the year to get those feet out of the sand and onto the escalator!

Janice L. Shapiro

Director, Professional Development


Securing the Social Safety Net: Can We Create a Better Flashlight?

Economic volatility continues its strangle-hold on our daily news – locally, nationally, and globally.  The news is not good – shrinking financial resources; increasing human needs – urging us to consider a different future.  Futurist, Thomas Frey, has said, “Much like walking through a dark forest with a flashlight, the future only comes into focus a short distance in front of us. So how do we create a brighter flashlight?”

Last week the Support Center hosted a conversation among leaders of the nonprofit and philanthropic sector.  The discussion focused on the question “how we will be able to secure an eroding social safety net in our region in the midst of significant government funding cutbacks?”  Our panel – representing the fields of grantmaking, research, advocacy, service, and merger/collaboration, set the stage for what we hope will be an ongoing conversation.  At the Support Center, we think about the “social safety net” as being far more than just simple benefits and entitlements for those who are vulnerable.  We see the safety net as an integrated system of partners – government, philanthropy, nonprofits, and communities – all working together to insure a just, safe, and healthy life for all, including those who are living in poverty and who are the most vulnerable in our neighborhoods.

Spurred by keynote speaker Doug Bauer from the Clark Foundation, panelists agreed that “the current social safety net is not the one we need”.  The economics of the current model do not work – the need has gone up, public resources have gone down, and both will continue to do so.

According to reports from the Fiscal Policy Institute, poverty rose sharply during the recession, increasing by well over one percentage point in New York City, New York State, and in the United States from 2008 to 2010. The official poverty rate is now about 15 percent in the state and 20 percent in New York City.

The human/social cost of high unemployment is the biggest threat today.  It affects everyone, but is concentrated among low income communities.  Individuals receiving food stamps have increased by 70% in last four years – from about 1.1 million to 1.8 million.  The economic outlook is clear–pressures will continue for the foreseeable future, challenging the safety net in ever greater ways.

So the question was posed, “How do we get to the 2.0 Social Safety Net and what might it look like?”  All presenters agreed that we need a different structure, a renewed vision.  Also agreed, it is important that nonprofit leaders –those of us working, day-to-day, trying to deliver these services– take the lead in constructing it. The voices and perspectives of those closest to the needs will be critical to changing the current models.

Panelists and nonprofit leaders in the room offered these thoughts as ways to begin action toward making the changes that will be needed:

  • Advocacy – Our biggest challenge is how we mobilize sector to think in terms of “change” – to really rethink the safety net given limited resources at the government level.  Unemployment, poverty, and homelessness are problems that impact all of us – and we are a country of great wealth that needs to collectively rethink our investment in “caring” for our communities.  We must prepare our leaders, including board members, to be strong advocates.
  • Be Proactive and Expand the Definitions – We have to demand more of ourselves and elected officials. If we’re going to attack poverty and not attack racism and sexism, we might as well not do it. We can’t attack poverty until we address these problems as part of the root cause of poverty.
  • Employment and Entrepreneurship – The human and social cost of high unemployment is the biggest threat today.  It affects everyone, but is concentrated among low income communities.  It’s time for the nonprofit sector to adopt an “entrepreneurial” mindset at all levels, as many of our old models do not work.   There are clearly emerging opportunities for combining services in different ways, collaborating with other organizations, or creating more earned income.
  •  Working Capital – Philanthropists need to think more broadly about the use of their endowments and go beyond grants.  Access to working capital is a confounding issue for many service organizations and is a major obstacle to creating a nimble, efficient system.  Program related investments that free up cash to help organizations manage through cash flow crises are critical.
  • Sectors Working Together – Government, philanthropy, and nonprofits need to collaborate more regularly and more deeply.  This is a real challenge – because we all live in silos.  We can’t get too stuck in our old ways–we need to let go – sometimes it is our identity and autonomy that gets in our own way.  Boards and key leaders need to get beyond the idea that “someone has to give something up” if we collaborate and find ways to create innovative win-win partnerships.  This will take some time, and some pain, but history suggests it can be done.
  • Increased Board Engagement –Board and organizational leaders must be willing to step back from their day to day work and ask hard fundamental questions – Why do we exist? What are we trying to change?  What is our role in this?  While evidence-based outcomes and other metrics are important to nonprofits and their funders, sometimes the strong focus on providing “good outcomes” can inadvertently move nonprofits away from serving the most vulnerable (hardest to turn-around) populations.  Boards can partner with staff to keep mission and service focus clear and consistent.
  • Capacity building – Experience shows that “high touch” capacity building works best—this means funders will need to be more engaged with their grantees around building organizational capacity, understanding organizational life cycles, and determining new and effective organizational structures.  Good capacity building work means more than just giving advice; it means guiding assessment, planning, and helping with implementation to ensure successful outcomes.

So where are we headed from here?   Some funders are already providing funding for nonprofit collaborations.  An example of a fund that was developed specifically for that purpose is the New York City Merger, Acquisition, and Collaboration Fund (NYMAC), a presenter and participant in our conversation.

It is good to know that there is some early thinking and resources being contributed to change, but the question remains “What will our future look like”?  In closing, I offer a few additional quotes from Futurist Thomas Frey to fuel the conversation: “Until now, ours has been a dance with the ordinary”, “We only value that which we struggle to achieve”, and “The past is past, so get over it.”  Let us know your thoughts!



Don Crocker



The Support Center works with grantmakers and nonprofit organizations to effectively manage change including Organization Assessments, Turnarounds, Restructuring and Executive Transitions.

NYMAC – Fostering Nonprofit Mergers, Acquisitions & Collaborations in New York City

SeaChange Capital Partners has announced the launch of the New York Merger, Acquisition, and Collaboration Fund (NYMAC), a new initiative that encourages and enable mergers, acquisitions, and other types of formal, long-term collaborations between nonprofit organizations working in New York City.  The goal of NYMAC is to provide vital support to a diverse set of nonprofit organizations as they navigate a very challenging operating environment, supporting leaders willing to make difficult mission-driven decisions, and encouraging innovation and best practices in the nonprofit sector.

NYMAC will support organizations that already have a serious interest either in coming together in some way, or in exploring how they might, and will make grants to help cover a portion of the one-time costs required to explore or complete the transaction. As a neutral, credible, and experienced outside party willing to invest time and money, NYMAC will work constructively and confidentially with the funders, boards, and leaders of the organizations considering a transaction as a catalyst for sensible action. In addition to making grants in support of particular transactions, NYMAC will work with foundations, government agencies, and umbrella groups to encourage New York’s nonprofits to more proactively explore the various ways in which they might collaborate with one another. The initial $1.2 million fund will finance approximately 10 to 15 collaborations. Learn more about the Fund at its new website.

April Tweets for Thought

Mergers, capacity building and organizational learning are always on our minds here at the Support Center. Here are three tweets we found this month that we’d like to share on these subjects. Please let us know your thoughts on our blog.

The Most Important Word for Nonprofits: Merger

Robert Egger discusses the five levels of mergers.

What We Talk About When We Talk About  Organizational Learning

This guest post on Beth Kanter’s blog by Cindy Rizzo came out of conversations at the 2012 Geo National Conference.

How Foundations Support Grantees and more with Doug Bauer, Executive Director, Clark Foundation

An insightful interview by Laura Cronin for the PhilanTopic blog.

Support Center Expands Executive Search & Change Consulting Services for Area Nonprofits – Grantmakers Contribute to Ensure the Health and Stability of their “Mission-Critical Grantees”

The economy remains volatile and government cuts are upon us.  The needs in our communities are growing and even the strongest nonprofit organizations are struggling to “steady the ship.”  Executive Director and CEO transitions, too, are disrupting the ability of nonprofit organizations to remain effective.

As nonprofit funding changes, community need incDon Crockerreases, and executive directors transition, it makes sense that the most caring and connected foundations and corporations are looking for ways to ensure the health and stability of their own “mission-critical” grantees.  Karen Brown (Support Center Board Member and Fairfield County Community Foundation VP of Programs), in a recent interview in Philanthropy News Digest’s Philantopic said, “We’ve been urging grantees to continue to invest in staff and professional development and not to look at those kinds of investments as frills…funders need to consider supporting these programs in order to help organizations hold the line on their budgets without sacrificing effectiveness.”

Many private and corporate funders are investing in efforts to ensure the health and well-being of the nonprofit groups and communities they care about.  JPMorgan Chase Foundation, the Altman Foundation, and the Prudential Foundation are just three of the many foundations that are demonstrating a real commitment to nonprofit effectiveness and impact, and are partnering in the Support Center’s efforts to guide nonprofit change and transition.

While we know that some of our readers have worked directly with us and have experience with all of these services, we realize that many of you may not be as familiar with our full scope of offerings.  Here is a brief overview:

Executive Search and Transition Management (ESTM)

A change in leadership, whether from a founder, long-time executive director, or a mismatched hire, can be a pivotal time in the life of a nonprofit—presenting an opportunity to examine organizational challenges and make decisions for future directions. Here at the Support Center, we use the proven techniques of Executive Search and Transition Management  to address organizational needs and work to strengthen the whole organization, while also successfully managing the hiring of a new leader. Our three-phase process addresses a nonprofit’s needs through an organizational assessment, facilitates the hiring of the new executive, and guarantees a successful outcome with “on-boarding” consulting for the new leader. Throughout the process, our consultants work hand-in-hand with board members, staff, funders and other stakeholders in the community.

Change Consulting and Turnaround Services

In addition to facing leadership changes, NYC nonprofits—like many others nationwide—have been hit by significant declines in funding in the wake of government shortfalls and the volatile economy. Nonprofits—from arts and culture groups to human service organizations—are undergoing painful reassessments and restructuring, including mergers, acquisitions, collaborations, cutbacks and closings. Adjusting to this new economy means increasing effectiveness and sustainability for many small to mid-sized neighborhood based nonprofit organizations. Increased funding from foundations this year allows us to reach out to more nonprofits and provide critical Change Consulting  services that can help them assess current programs, improve financial management, increase board engagement and fundraising effectiveness, while keeping our fees affordable to NYC-area small and mid-sized nonprofits.

Professional Development and Cohort Learning

Each year we strive to develop the best course offerings, listening to your requests and needs for professional development. As we plan for 2012, increased funding will allow us to expand the range of workshops, tailor them to your time-frames (half-day, full-day and evening offerings), and add more custom programming at affordable rates. In addition, we also will be developing new opportunities for cohort learning. The Trajectory Leadership Group we formed this year has confirmed our belief that cohort learning is an effective means for executive directors and other senior nonprofit professionals to learn new skills and learn from one another in a supportive atmosphere outside of their offices and daily activities.

Find out more about our work and partnerships by visiting us at

Building Nonprofit Capacity: A Guide to Managing Change Through Organizational Lifecycles

November 22, 2011 1 comment

In this new book, authors John Brothers, Senior Fellow here at the Support Center, and Anne Sherman,  of TCC Group seek to help nonprofit leaders figure out how to effectively navigate change within their organization, no matter how large or small the nonprofit might be.  They use the theory of nonprofit  “lifecycle advancement’  as a type of change management that can help organizations build capacities that are appropriate to each stage of a nonprofit.

“A central question for leadership is to identify where, and when, to focus organizational energy, and that is where Brothers and Sherman’s book comes in. Changing organizations is never easy, which is why managers need the right set of maps and tools—like this one.” Jon Pratt, Executive Director, Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.

What’s Included?

Chapter One:  Change as a defining force in the nonprofit sector

Chapter Two – Chapter Six: Examines the five life cycle phases of organizations, including a discussion of how an organization in decline can navigate a turnaround

Throughout the text the authors:

  • Make the case for a deliberate change process, yet also acknowledge the very real challenges
  • Provide a context for the struggles that nonprofits face
  • Offer success stories
  • Offer frameworks and tools that leaders can apply in their own organizations.

Building Nonprofit Capacity is a highly useful guide for nonprofit professionals who want to focus on capacity building efforts that will yield the greatest impact. Books can be ordered at Amazon.

John Brothers, is a Senior Fellow at the Support Center for Nonprofit Management  and the owner of Cuidiu Consulting in New York City.

Anne Sherman is an Associate Director and Co-director of the Strategy Practice at TCC Group in New York City.

The Limited Returns on Fundraising Support for Nonprofits

“The case for leveraging philanthropic dollars by fortifying nonprofits’ fundraising capability seems like a no-brainer. But is it?”  In this Stamford Social Innovation Review blog post, TCC’s Paul Connolly says new research conducted for the Packard Foundation says NO.  Paul reports that “grantees that concentrated on improving fund development capacity reported inferior longer-term outcomes compared to those that focused on strategic planning, organizational learning, or leadership succession. Why? “Oftentimes, fundraising difficulties are a symptom of a deeper underlying problem..”  Read Paul’s post and what others in the field, including the Support Center’s Don Crocker, have to say about this issue.

“When thinking about strengthening nonprofit fundraising capacity, many foundations believe in the old adage, “Give a person a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a person to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” They wish, “If we could only improve nonprofits’ ability to generate revenues, then they would become more resilient…and less reliant on us.” Most nonprofits concur: “Just fund a development director position for us,” they implore, “and it will pay for itself in a year, enabling us not just to survive but to thrive.” Fundraising advisors encourage this support too. At the Council on Foundations annual conference in April, Dan Pallotta, author of Uncharitable: How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential, proclaimed to a ballroom full of grantmakers, “We should be capitalizing on the multiplication potential by funding the fundraising operations that can fund the programs.” He contended that investment—whether it’s in a major gift campaign, a planned giving or special event program, or the expansion of development staff—consistently generates a positive return.” Read more

Categories: Capacity Building