For the past year Rainier Valley Corps (RVC) has been growing our Operations Support program. We now have 12 incredible partner organizations under our fiscal sponsorship. RVC handles back-office functions such as payroll, HR, financial management, legal compliance, contract monitoring, etc. In addition, when it makes sense, we also provide fundraising, strategic planning, board development, and other forms of support, as well as send in one or two fellows to work full-time at organizations for two years at a time.

Of the people who “get” what we’re trying to do, they become equally excited. However, the first question we get asked is, “Are you an incubator? Is there a timeline for your partner organizations to grow and ‘graduate’ from the program? Like, after three years, they have to get their 501c3 and be on their own? I mean, you can’t keep supporting them forever, right?”

So this is what I’m going to call the incubation mentality, this belief that effective nonprofits have to eventually “grow” out of whatever partnership they are in, whether it’s with a fiscal sponsor or a funding partner. It is a pervasive mentality, happening all across our sector, and it is incredibly annoying, if not downright harmful to our work.

We need to completely change how we as a sector see capacity building, because this incubation mentality has actually been preventing nonprofits from achieving their missions.

It’s time we as a sector move out of this mentality. It is paternalistic and prevents models like the one my organization and other capacity builders have been proposing from working. It is ineffective and inefficient for every organization, big or small, to do all its own operations in a misguided attempt to build capacity when it really should be focusing on the critical programs and services that only it can do.

Read the full article about capacity building by Vu Le at the National Center for Family Philanthropy.