Building nonprofit capacity

Nonprofits face challenge in strengthening internal operations.

[Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles from the Institute for Nonprofits at N.C. State University on issues facing nonprofits.]

By Barbara Metelsky

[04.20.04] — In tough economic times, nonprofit organizations must “do more with less.”

Nonprofits are faced with the difficult task of cutting budgets that are already “bare bones.”  Entities funding nonprofits are faced with hard decisions as they have less money to award during times of great need.

In such times, one of the first areas that nonprofits trim or eliminate from their budgets, and where funders look to reduce or eliminate their giving, is capacity building.

When faced with a choice between providing programs and services, or training staff or board development, the choice seems to be a “no-brainer.”  Service wins over capacity-building.

But are these decisions “penny-wise and pound foolish?”  What is the cost of the failure to build the capacity of nonprofits?

North Carolina is fortunate to have a number of excellent nonprofit capacity-building entities, including the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits and the Duke University certificate program in nonprofit management.

What North Carolina has been lacking are the resources that a nonprofit academic center can offer to nonprofits.

The A.J. Fletcher Foundation has recognized the importance of capacity-building for nonprofits and the role of nonprofit academic centers.

The foundation has demonstrated its commitment with a $1 million challenge grant to the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at N.C. State University for the Institute for Nonprofits.

The institute will draw upon resources across the N.C. State campus and beyond to assist nonprofits in achieving their missions.

The three focal areas of the institute are academic programs, both undergraduate and graduate; research on the sector and to inform practice; and engagement activities, both professional development and technical assistance programs designed to fill gaps in existing services.

As part of our engagement mission, the Institute for Nonprofits will publish a monthly column in the Philanthropy Journal, a publication of the A.J. Fletcher Foundation.

Institute-affiliated faculty members are writing articles that we hope you will find informative and practical.

Future articles will look at ethics, human resource issues and financial accountability in nonprofits.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts about these articles and welcome suggestions for future topics.  Please email your suggestions to

Barbara Metelsky is the founding director of the Institute for Nonprofits at N.C. State University.

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