Organizational Capacity. It’s one of those buzzy words that drops into nonprofit conversations every now and then, signaling a reflective pause in the normal hustle and bustle of mission driven work. The concept, when it appears, is most likely cursorily inspected and then quickly replaced with bigger, more pressing words, like funding, mission, or program. Here at MNA, however, these two words have been front of mind, for a couple of important reasons.
In 2019, we welcomed three new staff members to our team, and took a close look at how to improve our offerings across the state. In order to introduce programs like the MNA Innovation Lab and MNA Catalyst while continuing to meet long-standing member offerings, we needed the internal capacity to handle the day-to-day responsibilities of managing a larger staff. And throughout this process of growth, we’ve also been thinking more deeply about organizational capacity overall, and the phases nonprofits encounter, from start-up to maturity, or decline and reinvention.
There are plenty of models and theories on nonprofit lifecycle stages (here is one of our favorites), but the gist is this: there is no one–size–fits–all answer to how organizations should look, and as resources and opportunities change, nonprofits are in varying positions to grow, stabilize, or transition. Nonprofits must balance their organizational capacity (administrative, financial, and governing resources) with their mission work (programs, partnerships, and opportunities).
This balance between internal capacity and external impact is ongoing and subtle – and it’s about much more than having enough funding. Nonprofits must practice organizational self-awareness in order to understand when to invest in internal processes (such as better bookkeeping, HR services, or IT infrastructure) and when to build program impact through additional staffing or outreach. Effective nonprofits are continually looking in the mirror and deciding whether to prioritize stability or pursue growth.
Sometimes, opportunities align – saying yes to an exciting partnership just as a new funding opportunity presents itself or receiving a multi-year grant with a strong, consistent leadership team at the helm, ready to deliver on promises and programs. Then there are moments when an organization’s capacity, mission, and resources are mismatched. Perhaps a nonprofit sees an area for growth in their programming, but due to an unstable organizational structure, attempts to expand their efforts feel more like throwing thimblefuls of water on a blazing fire. Or, imagine the organization that has remained stable and steady for so long that stagnation has set in – preventing them from adapting their programming to meet the changing needs in their community.
The scenarios described above impact every nonprofit – from all-volunteer community organizations to well-staffed regional institutions. Dancing the organizational capacity dance* is a skill great organizations practice often. Luckily, we can all learn how to participate. Below are a few guideposts as you begin your path in 2020.
If your organization has undergone a leadership transition, financial upset, or series of changes over the past year, you may be seeking stability in 2020. This is a great time to invest in your internal processes, carefully weigh opportunities before jumping in, and build a strong foundation. Consider these upcoming training opportunities:
- Financial Leadership Webinar Series | Register Today
- Nonprofit Board Leadership + Stewardship | Register Today
- Full Cost Accounting Workshop | March 25th | Learn More
- HR Webinar Series | April – May | Register Today
- Free MNA Member New Executive Director and Board Chair Affinity Group | Register Today
- Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence | Where Does Your Organization Stand?
On the other hand, if your organization has found its footing, has an all-star team in place, and is ready to tackle old problems in new ways or new problems in old ways, growth might be on the horizon for you in 2020. Take your organization to the next level with these resources:
- Asking Matters with Brian Saber | April 15-17th | Learn More
- Voices of Philanthropy Webinar Series | Register Today
- Business Planning Masterclass Workshop + Cohort | May 7th | Learn More
- Free MNA Member Executive Director and Development Staff Affinity Group | Register Today
- Create New Partnerships | Learn More
As nonprofits, we may never feel like we are perfectly balancing internal needs with external impact – and once we think we have it, something unexpected happens and we start over. Organizational capacity is a moving target, but the process of reflection and action will always lead to better results. And remember, you’re not in it alone. We, and the entire MNA Community, are right beside you.
*We think this might be what the organizational capacity dance looks like…
Want to learn more or talk through your organizational development goals? Email [email protected] or call 406-449-3717.
Blog by Shelby Rogala | Professional and Organizational Development Manager | Montana Nonprofit Association