Capacity Building: A Test of Faith and Resolve In Our Organizations

Posted by Sr. Georgette Lehmuth, OSF on 2/26/19 8:33 AM


A couple of Sundays ago, the Gospel reading was from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter Five. It was the story of Jesus inviting Simon (Peter) and his fishing buddies to go back out on the lake to fish even though they had caught nothing the night before.

As the story goes, “They caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing.” After calling for a second boat, the fishermen were able to fill both large boats to capacity with the fish they had caught. The apostles are amazed and astonished. In the closing lines of the narrative, Jesus tells them, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”

The homilist at the service I attended talked a lot about Jesus testing the faith of his disciples. He went on to ask his listeners to consider how God might be testing us today, which is something worthy of reflection — I guess. However, I kept thinking of the fisherman being challenged to remain tenacious and from these added efforts the boats would be filled to capacity. In my mind, Jesus wasn’t testing the faith of Simon Peter and his friends, he was capacity building.

Capacity Building

Wikipedia tells us that capacity building is, “the process by which individuals and organizations obtain, improve, and retain the skills, knowledge, tools, equipment and other resources needed to do their jobs competently or to a greater capacity (larger scale, larger audience, larger impact, etc.). Capacity building and capacity development are often used interchangeably.”

Institutionally or organizationally, capacity building is a way to approach change that leads to growth.  Capacity building, to borrow the language from the SWOT Analysis, is about recognizing weaknesses and threats and the challenges they present while capitalizing on strengths and opportunities that encourage us to venture “into deeper waters,” so to speak.

Alan Kaplan, an international development practitioner and leading NGO scholar, suggests that capacity building in organizations can begin by focusing on four areas — conceptual framework, organizational attitude, vision and strategy, and organizational structure. Let's explore these areas and how nonprofit organizations can grow strong for the work ahead. 

Conceptual Framework

Kaplan describes this simply as an organization's understanding of its place in the world. For several years, NCDC has been talking about knowing the “Mission Equity” of one’s organization or institute. Who do people say you are? What is the value proposition you offer to your donors and those whom you wish to engage in your mission? How is your organization making a difference and what kind of difference is it making?

Organizational Attitude

This quality has to do with the way an organization views itself. Kaplan questions whether we see ourselves as victims of circumstances (over which we have little or no control) or a group that can be a catalyst for change. Do we focus much of our energy bemoaning the fact that our most faithful donors are dying? Or do intensify our efforts to celebrate and further engage our aging donors by strengthening our planned giving efforts? Do we worry too much about how to engage the youngest generation of possible donors? Or do we pay more attention to creating meaningful engagement opportunities with current or potential donors who are, perhaps, a little older? Do we believe the many myths about Generation X? Or do we find ways to re-create our mission value proposition to match their deepest concerns?

Vision and Strategy

This quality is about vision, mission, and having a plan. I believe that we as organizations have two basic choices when it comes to change. We can simply allow the inevitability of change to happen and reactively try to deal with it, or we can be proactive, anticipate change, prepare for it, and be agents of change ourselves. Taking time to revisit our vision and re-articulate our missions is critical but almost meaningless if we do not take the time and energy to plan. A calendar of events or campaigns is not a plan. In fact, it can almost be the antithesis of planning because planning must flow from vision and mission, not last year’s calendar.

Organizational Structure

Kaplan calls for a clear operational model wherein communication flow is not hindered and everyone in the organization understands his/her role and responsibility in advancing the mission of the institution. He argues that organizations who focus on developing a conceptual framework, an organizational attitude, vision and strategy are more adept at being self-reflective and critical, two qualities that enable more effective capacity building.

Faith in Your Organization

could not agree with him more.

If we want to be “fishers of men” (and women), we must make sure our nets are strong, our boats can handle swells and shallows, and we have built up our strength to row together into deeper water.

As I reflect back on the words of the homilist, I think I might have been a bit quick to judge, when he spoke about the Gospel story as a test of faith. For all of us, perhaps, capacity building is a real test of our faith — faith in our organization’s vision, mission, and courage to change.

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About The Fundraiser's Outlook

The Fundraiser's Outlook is a blog written by Sr. Georgette Lehmuth, President of the National Catholic Development Conference.  Her blog always emphasizes the ministry of fundraising and the importance of your work for your organization’s mission. Applying her decades of experience in the nonprofit sector, she often reflects on current events, pop culture, and travel and how our world impacts Catholic nonprofits.

About Sr. Georgette Lehmuth

Sr. Georgette Lehmuth, OSF has been President/CEO of NCDC since 2001.

She is a noted speaker on the ministry of fundraising and has spoken at the conferences of: the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM), the National Association for Treasurers of Religious Institutes (NATRI), the Association for Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and the Independent Sector. She has also presented at the Ascension HealthCare Council on Philanthropy, Catholic Charities USA Ministry Conference and at the Caritas gathering of charitable fundraisers in Lima, Peru, which represented 24 countries of Central and South America and the Caribbean.

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