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A Model for Enhancing Grantee Capacity Building

by Katrina Ruffner

Recruiting, orienting, engaging and retaining board members is critical to building capacity for greater impact, but many nonprofits have limited or no funds for training, especially at the board level.

Build1A Creative Solution

To remove barriers to board training, Davenport Trust Fund, a private foundation established in 1927 to provide charitable, educational, religious and temperance grants in the Bath, Maine area, partnered with MANP to provide full scholarships for local board members and executive directors to attend MANP’s capacity-building trainings.

In a pilot initiative in May 2014, 21 participants from seven nonprofits attended a day-long Board Boot Camp training. The Camps, offered twice a year in different locations, prepare board members to adapt to increasing demands in this rapidly evolving environment by fostering networks, and providing practical information, resources, and tools that equip these key volunteers to lead the organizations they serve more effectively.

The Results

To date, Davenport Trust has used this model to build organizational capacity for 24 nonprofits by sending 55 board and staff members to MANP’s Board Boot Camps and Executive Leadership Forums.

Both the foundation and nonprofits have seen results. Barry Sturgeon, Trustee of the Davenport Trust Fund, reflects:

“It was especially gratifying to see three and four board members attend from the same organization. The training was so timely for many of our nonprofits whether they were new board members attending the Basic training or seasoned board members attending the Advanced training. I saw folks so engaged and ‘fired up.’ Our participants were able to take valuable information back to their organizations with some telling me that because of the training they are already implementing new procedures and making other positive changes. They also expressed appreciation for the opportunity to meet and share information with fellow nonprofit staff and board members from other Maine communities.”

Deb Nowak, Executive Director of Tri-County Literacy, echoes these sentiments:

“Through our MANP training over the past two years (all with scholarships from Davenport Trust), we have made tremendous improvements in board development and governance. We have expanded the board, developed a board manual, updated policies and procedures, completed a board self-assessment, and made many other needed improvements.”

Kimberly Gates, Executive Director of Bath Area Food Bank, reports:

“Three of my board members have taken two of the Board Boot Camp training classes (thanks to Davenport). After the first one, they left the session with a plan and were given the tools to take action. We were floundering as an organization before these classes. After the second boot camp session, they were THRILLED to see how far they had come in a matter of just a year. We are a hands-on, working board now. We have term limits and there are expectations of each board member to sit on a committee and make a difference. We went from being a faith based organization (with only 9 remaining churches involved) to a community based organization and now we have 21 organizations that are all involved! They volunteer on a rotating schedule, they help financially AND they are sharing their experience with others in the community” 

The Potential

Foundations that invest in capacity building for their grantees maximize the return on their investment, especially when connecting leaders with targeted opportunities that already exist in the community.

In Ms. Nowak’s words,

“This is great way to support capacity building. The programs we attended were, without a doubt, truly helpful in a variety of ways. We have not only already used much of the new knowledge gained from these programs, we also have plans to continue to use this new knowledge and further develop our organization.”

Ms. Gates also hopes to see other foundations replicate this approach.

“Davenport has been giving us ‘fish’ for many years. When they gave us the opportunity to take these classes, they ‘taught us to fish’.

Mr. Sturgeon reports that Davenport Trust has found efficiencies and sees broad potential for ripple effects of impact that will serve the Fund’s mission for years to come.

“Collaborating with MANP has allowed us to provide a cost effective way to bring immediate, meaningful and professional resources to our local nonprofits. The MANP assistance also provides long-term impact as many dedicated community members serve on multiple nonprofit boards throughout their lifetimes.

Other funders and umbrella groups are now partnering with MANP to provide this kind of assistance to their partners and grantees. It’s a rare win-win-win, with funders providing meaningful support to grantees, grantees building capacity, and MANP furthering our mission to strengthen nonprofits to better serve their communities.

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