The Question of Capacity vs. Service Delivery

I was at a workshop recently which explored what an investment in a non-profit’s capacity looks like and what distinguishes that from investing in actual service delivery.

Given that any grant-making organization has to have some kind of focus and way of identifying which causes have the most potential to deliver success based on that focus, it’s not surprising that a discussion of capacity comes up.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
Chinese proverb

Capacity defined

There were many definitions but the overall spirit is the same. Capacity is directly related to sustainability – an organization’s ability to fulfill its mission on an ongoing basis. There are related aspects of effectiveness and impact. And when you look at what makes up capacity there are many strategic and structural aspects.

Other ways of helping

For the organization that put on the workshop, building capacity is their focus. For other organizations and many volunteers, help in providing the actual service that the non-profit provides is the objective.  I can think of the construction teams helping at Habitat for Humanity or tutoring in literacy or ESL as examples. And then there are the one-shot deals, the boosts of adrenaline that are usually fundraising focused and are commonly executed as a single event.

Teaching organizations to fish

As I travel about, talking with non-profits, there is a consistent gap in funding for operations.  It seems that sponsors love to put their name on events or programs but funding is needed for the basic building blocks of capacity. Maybe it’s time to spend a little more focus on ensuring these organizations can fish.


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