Tag Archives: capacity building

Winter is here, and we must build the power of organizations and communities of color

[Image description: Nine hands of diverse skin colors, overlapping in a circle, as in a show of unity. Image obtained from pixabay.com]

Last month, I attended a luncheon where one of the speakers, a colleague of mine, mentioned doing a home visit to check in on a little girl and her mom. The small apartment was completely dark. As my colleague’s eyes adjusted, she noticed there were papers with strings of numbers taped to the walls. Seeing her curious look, the mom said, “These are phone numbers. I want her to memorize these numbers…in case they take me away.”

Stories like these are now more and more common. In Seattle we’ve seen flyers posted all over the South Park neighborhood encouraging people to call ICE “for fast deportation of illegal immigrants.” We’ve heard about the tragedy in Portland of the men who were murdered on a train for defending two Muslim women against the abuse of a bigot. These stories of fear and hatred are enough for many of us to lose faith in humanity. But I have been encouraged by the parallel stories of compassion and solidarity, of neighbors looking out for one another.

All of this makes me wonder about one of the most important roles of our sector, which is the building of community power. When the voices of the community members most affected by injustice are strong, when they have the resources and power to help change the systems—by voting, by shaping policies—our society is strengthened and all of us benefit. As our world spirals into divisiveness and intolerance, building the voice and power of the most marginalized is our best defense against the rise in racist nationalism, hate-mongering, xenophobia, violence, and injustice. Continue reading

Capacity Building 9.1: Give someone a fish, let them focus on carpentry

kitten-1582384_1280My organization, Rainier Valley Corps, just finished our first program year (yay!). In case you didn’t know, RVC’s flagship program is a fellowship where we find talented leaders of color, provide them with training and support, and have them work full-time at small, grassroots organizations led by communities of color. The fellows help the organizations build capacity and run programs while gaining critical leadership and nonprofit management skills.

This year, our ten brilliant fellows have:

 

  • coordinated protests against unfair labor laws;
  • furthered the work to create an economic zone that provides employment and entrepreneurial support to people of color;
  • organized discussions on racial equity and dynamics in light of the national tragedies;
  • planned and implemented extended-learning programs for low-income youth;
  • surveyed over 650 parents of color regarding their views and needs on education
  • wrote successful grant proposals, coordinated board retreats, planned events, managed community centers, did a million other things,
  • sang a lot of karaoke,
  • and generally made our community better, safer, and way more awesome

Continue reading

Is your organization or foundation unknowingly setting Capacity Traps?

butternut-squash-399415_640Happy Fall, everyone. Time for pumpkin spice in everything. And butternut squash, which I have never gained a liking for. It’s in or on all sorts of stuff: ravioli, pizza, bread, ice cream. I just don’t get butternut squash!

Anyway, today’s topic. My organization, Rainier Valley Corps, develops the capacity of communities-of-color-led nonprofits by sending in leaders of color whom we train to work full-time at these organizations. Through our work so far, we have been learning some important lessons, many through failures, which I want to share on NWB from time to time.

A huge lesson we have learned, for example, is the importance of providing fair compensation for organizations of color to be involved in research and planning. For some wacky reason, many of us in the field are OK with budgeting for consultants, and then kind of expecting organizations of color to do work for free or little funding, a serious problem I wrote about in “Are you or your org guilty of Trickle-Down Community Engagement? Continue reading

Letter to RVC’s first cohort of nonprofit leaders of color

IMG_2905Hi everyone, RVC’s first ever cohort of ten leaders of color start their work today after spending most of last week in an intense orientation retreat designed to introduce them to the nonprofit sector: “And this, you may know, is hummus. It is present at 90% of nonprofit meetings in Seattle. Traditionally it is eaten with pita wedges, but recently we’ve been seeing an increase in raw broccoli and baby carrots, especially at community forums.”

I’ve spent most of last week with the Fellows, and since today is such a historic moment for my organization and for our first cohort of leaders, I want to spend this post writing a letter to them. It will likely be long and sappy and sentimental, much like this letter I wrote my son just in case I died early. If you feel like skipping this week’s post, I’ll understand. Next week we will get back to a normal, less sentimental post. Continue reading

Capacity Building 9.0: Fund people to do stuff, get out of their way

gulls-343235_960_720Some people think capacity building is boring. Well, I think it’s sexy, and I’ve spent many hours writing romantic poems about it: “Can Love’s arrows seek truest rapture/Without the quiver of Infrastructure?/Can e’er Equity take flight and sing/Save with steadfast Capacity ‘neath her wings?” (What, like your hobbies are SOOO much more interesting).

Since most of my work is now focused on building capacity of communities-of-color-led nonprofits, I’m glad that there seems to be a new resurgence of people talking about capacity building. Here’s a great paper from Grantcraft with cool concrete recommendations for funders  including a brief discussion on the importance of general operating funds for capacity building. And here’s one from the TCC Group on what they call “Capacity Building 3.0.” According to this briefing paper, Capacity Building 1.0 is about individuals, Capacity Building 2.0 is about nonprofit institutions, and 3.0 is about the entire nonprofit ecosystem, which includes funders, businesses, even the government.

These white papers are all written by very intelligent people who have thought long and hard about the critical role that capacity building plays in our ability to do our work. After reading through them and other articles on the topic, I want to offer some reflections and recommendations. Continue reading