Giving Compass' Take:

• Nonprofits should start with the premise that every organization has core strengths on which it can build upon, and focus on those instead of trying to eliminating weaknesses.

• How can you identify the core strengths of your nonprofit organizations? How can you use capacity building to help make those changes while addressing organizational needs?

This program finds early success in capacity building. 

“Eat here! We’re perfectly average!” Does that sound like a winning slogan for success in the restaurant business?

Of course, not—and it’s a loser for social impact, too. So, why is so much nonprofit capacity building grounded in the elimination of weaknesses to achieve average performance?

Consider a typical capacity-building scenario: A nonprofit seeks to strengthen its organization, or perhaps a funder asks the nonprofit to do so. Staff and maybe external stakeholders fill out one of dozens of tools available to help nonprofits identify capacity needs, many of which ask respondents to rate the organization’s performance on a list of standard capacities. Decision-makers examine the results, focusing on low scores (“I guess we don’t utilize our board well” or “clearly we need to improve on impact measurement”), and then hire consultants to help plug those gaps (implementing board “best practices” or identifying metrics). Two years later, those weaknesses are no longer so glaring, but there hasn’t been a steep change in impact. The cycle repeats year after year, sprinkling resources across many needs and making incremental improvements at best.

We know that nonprofits need exceptional ingenuity and operational prowess to address entrenched social problems with limited resources. And with over 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States alone, it is challenging for those seeking growth funding to stand out. Yet by encouraging a focus on gaps, capacity-building funding often implicitly pushes organizations to pursue a just-good-enough standard in which weaknesses won’t get in the way of their mission, even though being decent across the board is insufficient to change the world.

Read the full article about improving nonprofit's strengths by Jeremy Avins and Nathan Huttner at Stanford Social Innovation Review.