Capacity Building: Mission Critical

Original article by Simon Lord
Les Affaires, November 24, 2018

Capacity building is not a new concept in philanthropy, but it promises to become an increasingly important issue for non-profit organizations (NPOs). Choosing to make donations or provide training to support operations, rather than programs, ultimately helps NPOs to better fulfill their mission and grow strategically.

Traditionally, in the world of philanthropy, donors offer money to NPOs to support a program or project. However, the donation is often conditional on the organization not spending more than a certain percentage of this amount on administrative costs, say 10 to 12 percent. “The problem is that we are well aware that today, that this is no longer enough. Moving an organization forward requires paying for salaries, for rent, and bills,” says Kim Fuller, marketing specialist for non-profit organizations at Phil Communications.

Like businesses, NPOs must also invest in good governance and training employees. If the staff or management don’t have the right skills, it could negatively impact the way in which the money is invested, resulting in a reduction of the charitable work being carried out.

Such is the importance of capacity building, as demands and challenges are arising quicker than ever in the sector. The demands for transparency and accountability are stricter, which adds to the workload and requires an increased knowledge base and skillset. It is unrealistic for organizations to keep pace of these changes by spending no more than 10 or 12 percent of their budget on administrative tasks, according to Fuller. “Many foundations want NPOs to improve their operations, but without spending the foundation’s own money,” she says. Except that money doesn’t grow on trees. Organizations need more capacity building than ever before.”


Increasing the awareness of capacity building

Capacity building can take many forms and serve different purposes. Some forward-thinking foundations donate funds to pay for NPOs to redo their branding, develop new processes, or implement new evaluation strategies. Others offer coaching and training to help NPOs integrate digital media in their campaign through social media, online communications or upgrading their websites.

The McConnell and J. Armand Bombardier Foundations are recognized in the field of capacity building.

Ode Belzile, director of philanthropic activities at the J. Armand Bombardier Foundation, recognizes that small and medium sized NPOs have few resources to allocate to training. “More and more foundations are starting to recognize this and offer support,” says Belzile. It’s important for organizations to stop putting out fires internally and to talk to others, and to keep learning. ”


A cooperative and supportive environment

Not only does the J. Armand Bombardier Foundation make donations, it also offers the Philagora program; a series of trainings, workshops, interactive activities, conferences, and networking events. Launched in 2011, the program is open to the entire non-profit sector to enable organizations to learn, grow and share their knowledge and experience with each other. The themes and topics covered during the activities differ every year depending on current issues and interests of NPOs, ranging from funding, to governance, to social innovations and accountability.

For instance, from January to May 2019, Philagora will offer diverse topics: the Impact Gaps Canvas, a tool to map out and find possible solutions to issues like sponsorship, human resources and diversity, and storytelling.

Since 2014, the J. Armand Bombardier Foundation has also run La Cohorte, an initiative that organizes meetings between a dozen executive directors of organization so that they can brainstorm, discuss ideas and troubleshoot challenges in order to learn and inspire each other.

According to Belzile, the organizers have been overwhelmed by the positive impact of this initiative. “We underestimated how isolating it can be for the executive directors of these foundations. Being able to talk to a group of peers in a safe space has allowed them to come up with new ideas and improve their organization.”