Capacity Building (Part 1): Why It’s Critical for Your Nonprofit’s Success

A sapling emerges from the soil

Peter Gamache
Peter Gamache, PhD
Jackie Griffin
Jackie Griffin, Turnaround Life, Inc.

Special to the Philanthropy Journal

By Peter Gamache, Ph.D. and Jackie Griffin, Turnaround Life, Inc.

This is the first in a multi-part series from Turnaround Life, Inc. on the issues nonprofits face in building capacity.


The success of a nonprofit depends on a variety of factors. Some of them include the quality of its programs, effectiveness of its evaluation process, and its ability to provide funding. However, perhaps no other method is as critical as capacity building, as it is the foundation of a well-functioning nonprofit.

Almost every organization has to start small, and capacity building is what allows them to grow. Without it, their core capabilities will not expand past the starting point. Unfortunately, many nonprofits struggle with taking enough time and funds to invest back into their growth. Let’s have a closer look at why capacity building is critical for your nonprofit’s success:

How Capacity Building Helps Nonprofits

Even though capacity building sounds like a complicated process, it is elementary in its core definition. Capacity building includes all the activities and investments aimed at improving the effectiveness, reach and impact of a nonprofit organization.

It is a continuous process without which an organization cannot hope to reach the next level in any area of accomplishing its ultimate mission. When you define it this way, it becomes clear why it’s so important. What is less clear is why so many organizations fail to make capacity building a priority.

Why Nonprofits Struggle to Build Capacity

Unfortunately, capacity building tends to get overlooked as it does take a lot of time and resources. It’s also not easy to directly measure its impact, so its benefits might not be evident to many organizations. Some nonprofits even get caught in a vicious trap of not being able to dedicate themselves to capacity building precisely because they failed to do it in the past.

The main challenge of capacity building is determining where to start and how to do it. More often than not, nonprofits need to assess before they can decide on their first steps. That’s another factor that tends to put organizations off the capacity building, as it usually requires hiring a consultant to get the right insight.

Processes Impacted by Capacity Building

Regardless of the challenges, going through with the process has many benefits. Capacity building can impact essential operations within an organization, ensuring that it’s ready to scale up. Some of those processes are:

  • Training of the staff and board
  • Evaluation of the programs and organizational effectiveness
  • Updating the technology used to carry out everyday processes
  • Leadership development and succession planning

As you can see, the capacity building doesn’t only focus on financial, operational or programmatic goals. It encompasses all of them, depending on the organization’s most pressing needs.

All of the processes that impact an organization’s long-term effectiveness can improve by capacity building. As such, it should be a vital part of any organization’s growth strategy. In the long run, nonprofits must invest in capacity building, even if it may seem that it isn’t necessary. For organizations dedicated to their mission and staying sustainable, investing in the capacity building is a must.


Peter Gamache, PhD, is a research, development, and evaluation specialist for health services  organizations, private foundations, and federally-funded public service organizations. His current research interests include disparities in health and mental health, integrated care, program fidelity, and program outcomes. He advocates for a collective understanding of race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and culture to prevent and address marginalization of people living with disease, illness, injury, and disability.

Jackie Griffin serves as the development director, systems analyst, and director of evaluation for Turnaround Life, Inc. She has more than 26 years of experience dealing with nonprofit management, overseeing operations, grant development, grant management, capacity building evaluation, and performance assessment. Ms. Griffin manages the overall operations and resources of the company and works to enhance and sustain customer relationships and capacity building with stakeholders. She has worked to secure more than $69 million in government grants and expanding systems of care and behavioral health treatment in Florida, Mississippi, New Orleans, Maine and Virginia. Of that total, $22 million was awarded in the past three years in partnership with Turnaround Life and Turnar ound Achievement Network, LLC.  Ms. Griffin is a Certified Recovery Coach, and the former vice president of development of Operation PAR, Inc., and executive director of the LiveFree! Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Pinellas County. She earned her master’s with a concentration in nonprofit management and master’s  in Organizational Management and Leadership from Springfield College School of Professional and Continuing Studies, Tampa Bay campus. Ms. Griffin has taught graduate and undergraduate students as an adjunct faculty member for Springfield College Tampa Bay campus and currently serves as the president of its Community Advisory Board. Ms. Griffin founded Jackie Sue Griffin & Associates, LLC in 2013 to provide nonprofit organizations, health and human services and government agencies consulting expertise and technical assistance in fund development and philanthropy and capacity building. 

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