Capacity building is an example of a role you could play in your career. Many social-impact professionals enter their careers through the lens of role. While capacity builder is not a job title, possessing the related skill set can be crucial in many nonprofit jobs.
Many people find themselves working in nonprofit organizations because they are committed to the agency's mission, whether it be saving the environment, improving education, increasing civil rights, or creating access to housing.
While the positive energy associated with the commitment people bring to working in a nonprofit can go a long way, nonprofit staff often need assistance in facing numerous management challenges:
What these common scenarios represent are nonprofits that need to build their management capacity so they can fulfill their missions. This need for management infrastructure can be resolved in two ways. The nonprofit can, for example, call on someone to:
This second form of support is called capacity building or technical assistance (TA).
Capacity building in the nonprofit sector is frequently needed in the areas of organizational development, strategic and long-range planning, developing fundraising plans, developing financial management systems, board development, human resources development, developing volunteer programs, technology, marketing, and measuring outcomes.
There are numerous capacity building service providers that nonprofits can turn to for support. While some of these service providers are in the private sector (large consulting firms and independent consultants), there are also nonprofit organizations that do this kind of work.
Management support organizations (MSO's) are nonprofit consulting and training firms. Nonprofits themselves, these agencies exist to assist other nonprofits in their efforts to build their management infrastructure so they can fulfill their missions. MSO's often provide this support through consulting services, training workshops, publications, and speakers series. There are more than 100 MSO's in the United States. Here are a few of them:
Support Center for Nonprofit Management
New York, NY
Mission: to strengthen the capacity of nonprofit and public interest organizations to fulfill their missions and vitalize their communities. SCNM provides training and consulting for nonprofit managers and leaders, disseminates information and practical resources to the sector, and works to build strategic alliances.
San Francisco, CA
Mission: to increase the effectiveness and impact of people working and volunteering in the nonprofit sector. Through a broad range of services, we provide nonprofits with the management tools, concepts and strategies necessary to shape change in their communities.
Center for Nonprofit Management
Mission: to help nonprofit organizations enhance their results by providing educational services, consultation, and information.
Other sources of capacity building assistance can come from nonprofit service providers that have developed a specific area of expertise. Bailey House, an AIDS Housing Service Organization in NYC has developed its own Technical Assistance and Program Evaluation Department (TAPE):
Technical Assistance and Program Evaluation Department
Mission: to help HIV/AIDS housing and service organizations, particularly small-budget grassroots groups led by and serving people of color in the most affected communities, to have the greatest impact possible.
United Ways are independent organizations throughout the United States that offer funding and technical support to nonprofits. Many United Ways have developed management assistance programs for their member agencies:
United Way of Greater St. Louis
Management Assistance Center
Mission: to enhance the effectiveness of nonprofit organizations in the United Way of Greater St. Louis regional area by providing consulting services, leadership development skills training and management resources.
Federations, associations, and foundations also provide technical assistance to their member agencies.
The Hispanic Federation is a membership organization of over 70 Hispanic health and human service organizations in the New York City tri-state area.
Mission: to provide capacity-building services to agencies so that they may provide better services to the Hispanic community.
Whether an MSO, technical assistance department of a larger social service agency, a United Way, or a Federation, all these agencies have a common mission: to help other nonprofits do their work better.
Entry-level positions provide administrative support and do not oversee other staff. Titles include Administrative Assistant, Program Assistant, Training Assistant, Administrative Coordinator, Receptionist, Office Assistant, and Secretary.
These positions usually require a bachelor's degree, and it is helpful to have a commitment to the development of the nonprofit sector to be considered for these jobs. Annual salary ranges for these positions are generally $20,000 - $35,000.*
Mid-level staff are often managers who oversee the efforts of others in a specific focus area in support of program activities.
Representative titles include Program Manager, Consulting Manager, Training Manager, Office Manager, Operations Manager, Communications Manager, and Website Manager. These positions often require Master's degrees in public administration, nonprofit management, communications, or education.
The knowledge of management concepts is important for these roles, as is specific technical skill or experience relevant to their specific position. Salary ranges for these positions are generally $35,000 - $45,000.
MSO's also need consultants and trainers to provide services on a variety of management issues for client organizations. Titles include Staff Consultant, OD Consultant, HR Consultant, Program Associate, and Senior Associate.
These positions often require a master's degree, significant experience in the area on which they are consulting, and strong group facilitation and platform skills. Salary ranges are generally from $40,000 - $60,000.
Senior-level positions are responsible for strategically managing an area of responsibility, whether it be the overall direction of the organization or a specific program.
Titles include Executive Director, Associate Director, Assistant Director, Deputy Director, Managing Director, Director of Client Services, Director of Consulting, Director of Training, Director of Development, and Director of Finance and Administration.
These positions usually require master's degrees, as well as 7 + years of experience working in the nonprofit sector, skills in public speaking and group facilitation, and extensive experience in supervising staff. Salary ranges for these positions are generally $50,000 - $90,000.
Most people in the field agree that a combination of management theory and nonprofit experience are necessary to succeed.
Jeanne Bergman, Deputy Director for TAPE at Bailey House offers this advice:
"Practical experience doing what you want to provide TA in really matters to clients and also improves performance on every level. Folks want to know that you understand the real constraints they are working under. I also look for intelligence, dedication, and ability to communicate well."
Don Crocker, Executive Director of the Support Center for Nonprofit Management says, "Individuals who envision a career in nonprofit management or those hoping to work providing management support, training, consulting and technical assistance services for nonprofit organizations need to build their skill base and experience by working in nonprofits. Hands-on experience in program and service delivery, fundraising and financial management provide a core foundation for success in the field. Internships, volunteering, and summer work in nonprofit organizations are good beginning strategies."
Michelle Henry, a student pursuing her Master's degree in Public Administration at NYU's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service is interning at the United Way of New York City's Management Assistance Program. She's been involved in a number of projects, including reconciling the department's budget by reviewing workplans and organization files, updating their tracking system, evaluating customer satisfaction surveys, and event planning. She credits her statistics and financial management classes at NYU Wagner in familiarizing her with basic principles and concepts.
The Alliance for Nonprofit Management is the professional association of individuals and organizations devoted to improving the management and governance capacity of nonprofits.
US News and World Report ranks Graduate Schools in Public Affairs with a Nonprofit Management specialty.
Books on nonprofit management can be found at: