JLBC: Definitions and Understanding
The literature is clear – there is little shared understanding of the capacity building. Definitions are varied, and while they share common elements, emphasis on those elements varies. Capacity building is one of those terms that, while generally understood, can vary considerably in its application. In a 2006 study commissioned by the United Way Capital Area, researchers found that non‐profits, funders, and capacity‐building providers offered divergent descriptions or reported outright unfamiliarity with the term. If capacity builders themselves are unfamiliar with the term, how can they indeed be effective in providing high-quality services? If funders do not understand where they are directing their funds for the improvement, how can they be satisfied with the resultant outcomes? If non‐profits do not understand the activities they are engaged in, how can they build and sustain their effectiveness?
Models of Capacity Building
An additional challenge posed in the literature points to the limited availability of appropriate frameworks and models to understand correctly and frame capacity-building activities. While there seems to be agreement that capacity building encompasses many components, there is no consensus on what these components are.
Models and frameworks for capacity building can help clarify goals and objectives. Without an appropriate structure, capacity-building activities can seem disconnected and piecemeal. This can undoubtedly impact funders, as they may view their capacity-building investments as yielding poor outcomes. The need for shared models affects not only funders but also non-profits. When it comes to non‐profit capacity building, organizations do not have access to any shared model or framework applicable across the sector.
First, despite that there appear to be ample capacity-building resources available for non‐profits, there is evidence to suggest that some in the sector may still be unable to access these resources due to many capacity builders’ unfamiliarities with the challenges that non‐profits face. Capacity builders may provide services of mixed quality or offer services that focus primarily on one or two areas of capacity. Capacity-building providers need to closely examine not only the number of their offerings but also their quality. In a 2010 study of more than 260 non‐profits in the Los Angeles area, most respondents did not report high satisfaction with the capacity-building services. Only one in three would prefer their consultant to someone else.