What's Your Capacity?

Cheryl Lovstrom, Community Learning Network

0 0 9 January 2024

Another year has come and gone, and we are looking into the months ahead with fresh hope and commitment. For me, January always feels a bit like shaking off the old and stretching into the new; a time to dream big and jump into the next adventure. And each year, while I’m busy jumping into the new, there is a tiny whisper coming from behind. It’s a whisper I tend to ignore until it’s too late and then spend the rest of the year trying to catch up with myself. The whisper? “Do you have the capacity to do this?”

What is Capacity?

Capacity. It’s a word with many meanings, from the scientific ability to hold an amount of something, to the mental or emotional ability to make decisions, to the role someone is acting out in their job or position. There is another definition, however, that seems to have been written just for the CALP world. It comes from the blog How Capacity Building Can Shock-Proof Your Organization (https://www.runn.io/blog/capacity-building).

Capacity. This is the highest form of ability in capacity building. Capacity refers to the overall ability of your organization to create value for community members or customers. A team’s capacity involves functioning within a given timeframe, and with resilience if change is introduced. Do you need to hire more staff? Do you need to increase your budget? Do you need to extend the time allowed for task completion? Remember, employees or volunteers are an organization’s key success determinant, so ensuring your workforce are not stretched beyond their limits is critical.

'Capacity building' as a concept often gets brought up in the nonprofit sector, and no wonder. In our complex, post-pandemic world, nonprofit organizations are increasingly finding themselves trying to bridge the gap, needing to do more with less.

SO many questions, so little time! And budget. This is where the rebel in me screams, “It’s too hard! I don’t have time for this, and you can’t make me!” Then that little whisper gets louder, and I ask myself why. Why is it so important to build capacity? What is it I’m missing here?

To answer these questions, I turned to the blog, What is Capacity Management and Why is it Important (https://di.net.au/workforce-capacity-management/).

In the world of project management, capacity management is a process used to predict project needs and then allocate available talent strategically. The primary goal is to match supply with demand, within budget constraints, with a secondary goal of avoiding over-extending talent and over-investing time when not needed.

Ah, over-extending talent and over-investing time. How many times have I taken on a task and felt like I was spinning my wheels? How often do I forget to defer to someone whose skillset is better suited for the task I am so desperately trying to trudge through? Why, oh why, are those the times I put my head down and slog on rather than leaning on teammates who can help me?

How often have you felt like this? How about your team? Your board? Maybe it’s time for all of us to build a little capacity.

Why Build Capacity?

In Nonprofit Capacity Building: 12 Innovative Strategies to Try for 2024 (https://www.wildapricot.com/blog/nonprofit-capacity-building) they share these tidbits:

  • Building capacity for nonprofit organizations is meant to help:
    • Prevent nonprofit employee burnout from taking a toll on your team
    • Provide the resources for sustainable long-term growth
    • Keep you accountable to your mission as you continue to work to forward it
    • Create a healthy company culture where people are proud to work 
  • Don’t underestimate the power of your volunteers! After all, they’re the people who believe in your cause enough to invest their time for free.   
  • Tighten your bonds and boost volunteer effectiveness with thorough volunteer training, and don’t be afraid to make asks throughout the year. When your core staff is running low on juice, you might be surprised how many volunteers are eager to swoop in. 

How Do I Build Capacity?

That’s all well and good, but how do I build capacity? What can I actually do about it? Lucky for me, the blog Capacity Building (https://cmoe.com/glossary/capacity-building/) shed a little light on the situation.

Capacity building includes any activity that is used to increase the amount of productive ability that an organization has. Every organization produces something, whether a product or service, and their ability to deliver those offerings to their customers is called 'capacity.'

A capacity building synonym could be 'strength building.' Or think of it as 'advantage building' or 'gathering more ability to produce.'

“Strength building, more ability to produce,” now those are words I understand. In CALP there is nothing we like more than to extend our ability to produce. Whether it’s more classes, extended hours, or new staff, CALPs are constantly striving to do more for their communities. But how to do it all without burning out? Where should we put our efforts?

In A Practical Guide to Capacity Planning (https://www.float.com/resources/guide-to-capacity-planning/), they’ve laid out some guidelines we can follow:

To plan the capacity of your team, follow the steps below:

  • Determine existing and incoming project work
  • Determine the current and future capacity of available resources
  • Determine the difference between demand and resources available
  • Decide how best to close the gap
  • Take into account your people’s needs

What are Some Examples of Capacity Building?

And, in 8 Examples of Capacity Building Activities for Health Services Organizations (https://capacity4health.org/examples-of-capacity-building-activities/), there are some examples of how to build capacity which CALPs know a little something about:

For organizations, capacity building activities may focus on shoring up sustainability, improving governance, supporting collaboration, or strengthening infrastructure. All have a common goal: Strengthening the skills, resources, and abilities that allow an organization and its workers to grow and thrive.

Examples of capacity building activities at the organizational level include:

  • Fundraising: Raising the funds to keep nonprofits operating is always a challenge. Capacity building activities that focus on fundraising lead to improved sustainability; this may include training on fundraising techniques, fiscal management, or developing skills.
  • Hiring new people or seeking volunteers with expertise: Recruiting (and retaining) staff or volunteers with relevant knowledge and expertise means they can then pass their knowledge along to the rest of the organization. A focus on staffing, both selection and development, can promote organizational stability.
  • Forging partnerships with other organizations: Which other organizations are working in your field? Could a partnership complement your mission? In many cases, collaboration makes sense, both in terms of avoiding duplication of services and optimizing the work both groups perform.
  • Investing in new IT capacity: New technological innovations can cut down on busywork, freeing staff to do more important tasks. If applicable, new IT systems or platforms represent a smart investment in your organization’s future efficiency.

An example of capacity building at the systemic level:

  • Raising public awareness: Collaborative action can have a powerful effect, changing public opinion and raising awareness of issues.

While fundraising is at the top of this list, it’s not the only way to build capacity in an organization. Additional funding or not, there are still other great ways to improve the capacity of your team. Improving the capacity of the team means more skills, talents, and abilities to meet learner and community needs.

At the end of the day, the starting point is the capacity we already have. The end goal is to build that capacity a little at a time until we’ve built the “muscles” to lift the heavier weight without straining ourselves too much. Remember, "the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step" (Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu).

Interested in building your capacity? Check out the Training and Events calendar for upcoming opportunities: https://calp.ca/events

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