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Overcoming the Catch-22 of Nonprofit Capacity

By Nell Edgington

Ask a nonprofit executive director their biggest challenge and most will say securing enough resources. It can seem a vicious cycle: a struggling nonprofit needs to raise money to build their capacity, but they have to have enough capacity in place to raise that money. So they continue to struggle.

A reader of the Social Velocity blog, an executive director of a smaller nonprofit, recently emailed me interested in Social Velocity’s consulting help to grow their ability to bring money in the door. However, the organization is so strapped that they don’t currently have the money to hire Social Velocity. So they are stuck in the vicious cycle: not enough money to raise enough money.

But there is a way out.

The clients we work with are all small and medium nonprofits that are at some sort of inflection point. They too have realized they need to do something different in order to grow their impact and/or become more financially sustainable. Yet, the trouble is they can’t make that change without some outside help.

So they have gotten smart. They have embarked on a series of steps to secure enough investments to hire Social Velocity to help them create a stronger, more effective nonprofit. These are the steps they went through:

  1. Gather Champions: The executive director identifies a few board members who believe as strongly as they do in the desire for some sort of change to the organization and the need for help to get there.

  2. Create a Vision for Change: Together these few leaders agree on their vision for change, for example: stronger financial footing for the organization, expanded programs, a more effective board. They may have no idea how to get there, but they all agree on a desired change.

  3. Make a Roadmap: They meet with Social Velocity to get more clarity around the kind of change they want and what it would take to get there. Once I have a clear sense of where the organization is and what it would take to get them to their vision for change, I put together a detailed proposal listing activities, deliverables, timeline and cost so that they have a very clear roadmap for the investment required to make change happen.

  4. Find Prospects: The small group identifies 3-5 people (board members, current major donors, volunteers or other friends of the organization) as potential investors in securing Social Velocity’s assistance. These people possess 3 key criteria that make them likely prospects to fund this capacity-building effort:
    • Connection: They are already close to the organization, whether as a current donor, volunteer, board member or friend. They know the organization well.
    • Concern: They strongly believe in the organization and the work it is doing and want to see the organization do more and better.
    • Capacity: They have the capacity to make at least a $3-5,000, one-time investment in the organization so that it can get to the next level.
  5. Secure Investments: Once the nonprofit identifies this list of prospects, they go out and start meeting with prospects to discuss:
    • The nonprofit’s vision for change
    • The plan (Social Velocity proposal) for getting to that vision for change
    • The investment required
    • Whether they would like to make an investment

The end result has been nonprofit organizations, that had for years been stuck in the vicious cycle of never having enough money to do enough, finally breaking free with a plan and the investment to make some significant changes to their organizations. You can read our ongoing blog series, Raising Money to Grow On, about one of these clients who did exactly what I’ve outlined above. And you can also read a past blog post about how you can make your donors organization builders.

Nonprofits must break free from the idea that they just have to hobble along with dwindling resources, continuing to squeeze another drop out of a completely dry rock. If you have a core group of people who love your work and want to see you do more, you possess the key to building your own capacity.

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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (, a management consulting firm leading nonprofits to greater social impact and financial sustainability. Social Velocity helps nonprofits grow their programs, bring more money in the door, and use resources more effectively. For more information, check out Social Velocity consulting services and clients.

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