What is capacity–building?

By Joanna Webb


This year’s National Wildlife Refuge Friends Grant Program focuses on start–up and capacity–building projects, but sometimes Friends struggle to come up with innovative proposals because the term “capacity building” is not well understood.


Start–up projects assist with formative and/or initial operating support while capacity–building projects strengthen established refuge Friends organizations by addressing a specific need. Examples of start–up projects include initial membership drives, tuition for nonprofit management training programs, brochure and newsletter development, logo design, office equipment, or consultant fees to help develop a mission and strategic plan.


Capacity–building projects strengthen your organization, and might cover consultation fees for strategic, business, marketing and board plans; tuition for skill–building training courses at the National Conservation Training Center or through a local program; developing a new outreach event or exhibit that expands your ability to serve more people; a targeted membership drive among minority groups in the community; nature store start–up expenses; purchasing office equipment; creating a professional–looking Web site; or creating a portfolio to fundraise for special projects.


The Friends of Maine Seabird Islands received a capacity–building grant in 2011 to develop a fundraising portfolio to engage partners (local individuals, businesses and foundations) in development of new visitor center exhibits and educational displays.


Building a strong capacity–building proposal requires a project that 1) strengthens an organization’s business operations, fundraising, community involvement, partnerships, volunteer and member development, or infrastructure; and 2) has measureable, sustainable results that address a need.


A good example is a membership expansion project for which the Natural History Association of Cabeza Prieta in Arizona received a 2011 Refuge Friends grant. The association implemented a membership–based, multicultural Outdoor Adventure Camp to educate young people about responsible stewardship while expanding Friends membership to include all the campers.


The Refuge Friends Grant Program will again provide competitive seed grants ($1,500–$5,000) twice this year for start–up and capacity–building projects. The first round of awards will be announced on June 21; the second round is in September, with dates to be determined. Grants will not fund printing, political advocacy, travel, staff salaries, nonprofit filings, or food and beverages.


The best way to come up with capacity–building projects is to know and understand the needs of your organization and your refuge. Then develop a project that will help meet one of the needs. Strong capacity–building grants connect the organization’s vision to its goals, its goals to its plans, its plans to its actions, and its actions to results.


Joanna Webb is national Friends and partners coordinator for the Refuge System.