Giving Compass' Take:

•  Vu Le, executive director of Rainier Valley Corps, a philanthropic capacity-builder for nonprofit organizations,  describes a nonprofit model focused on capacity building and compared it to the model used in famous television series Star Trek.  

• What is the importance of capacity building, and why should it become the central part of a model of change? 

Read more about what works and what doesn't when it comes to building capacity. 


Ever since Star Trek debuted in the mid-1960s, each successive TV or movie installment has followed pretty much the same plot. Take a swashbuckling (or perhaps erudite) space captain, and put him (or her) in charge of an impossibly well-staffed and tricked out starships. The mission from that point is vaguely scientific and humanitarian: to boldly bop around that galaxy and, you know, learn stuff.

Vu Le likes that premise — especially the underlying logic for how it’s all made possible: Starfleet, a massive fictitious space agency, generally provides funding and works out the logistics of assembling crews and outfitting vessels for interstellar travel.

But Le is more than just some Trekkie. He’s the executive director of Rainier Valley Corps, a philanthropic capacity-builder for nonprofit organizations led by and serving communities of color around the Seattle area. He also runs the popular nonprofit sector commentary site Nonprofit AF. For him, Star Trek isn’t just an entertainment franchise. It’s a model for how earthly nonprofits might coordinate to accomplish more together.

After all, many groups suffer under the oppressive nature of the overhead myth–a belief among donors that those organizations that put very little into operational costs are somehow more efficient. As a result, many receive restricted grant funding and, at grassroots level especially, just don’t have the budget to hire the sort of accounting, human resources, and other specialized staff that any business-related organization requires.

“The nonprofit sector as it exists can be compared to Star Trek, but without many Starfleet-like organizations to coordinate everyone,” Le wrote in a column published in late 2017 in Nonprofit Quarterly. Still, many groups share the same mission — in show parlance, a “Prime Directive” — to, say, advance social justice work. Le’s solution: It’s time to build so-called Community Alliance model that shares back-end support services such financial management and human resources, fundraising duties, and helps related groups work in tandem to make even more progress.

Read the full article about the Star Trek-inspired model for nonprofit management by Ben Paynter at Fast Company.