Capacity Building in the Time of COVID
By Maria Azuri, Director of Capacity Building & Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Network for Good
Laura Heiman, Director of Capacity Building & Operations at United Way of Greater Atlanta
It’s no secret that Atlanta is grappling with serious challenges around inequitable outcomes. It’s the driving force behind United Way of Greater Atlanta’s focus on increasing the Child Well-Being of 250,000 children by 2027. This goal is a clarion call for stakeholders across our region, and across sectors, to lean in together to make big changes. Central to that effort are the many nonprofit agencies who work directly with children and families. They are the lifeblood of the social sector, working to deliver their mission with a fraction of the resources available to their for-profit counterparts. If we are to make a sizable impact on increasing Child Well-Being, we need to address the disparities that impact the nonprofit eco-system.
To this end United Way launched a new grantmaking framework in 2020, naming Capacity Building for nonprofits as one of three major approaches to addressing Child Well-Being gaps. 2020 also brought with it an unprecedented global event that continues to deeply impact all of our lives: the COVID-19 pandemic. The fragility of our social safety net and the inequitable impact of public health, economic, and social crises on communities of color were made starkly, undeniably clear.
Throughout the pandemic, Greater Atlanta’s nonprofits have worked around the clock to react in real time: redesigning their service delivery models, adapting to a digital infrastructure, and making sure that the people they served had what they needed to make it through another day.
Overstretched and exhausted, many nonprofit leaders expressed frustration at their Catch-22 of a situation: their organizations didn’t have the capacity to do capacity building, but they still needed capacity building support. One of the top concerns lifted up by local nonprofits was fundraising and resource generation. United Way knew it needed to find the right partner to provide the extra layer of support that their nonprofit partners needed.
Enter Network for Good. In 2020, Network for Good’s Director of Capacity Building & Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Maria Azuri, joined in discussion with local funders around helping support the capacities and infrastructure of nonprofit partner organizations as a necessary conduit in driving positive and healthy community impact.
“What we know is that just as there are structural barriers that inhibit individual’s and family’s equitable health and growth, there are also key historic barriers for nonprofits led by- and serving communities of color,” says Azuri. “Part of the investment that funders have to offer is for infrastructure – and nothing is of greater importance in long-term sustainability than investing in these leader’s access to fundraising capacity building and generating revenue with the leading requisite technology and tools.”
Financial sustainability is often the challenge nonprofit leaders cite as their number one concern. It’s also important to note that the nonprofit sector as a whole is the 3rd largest employer in the United States – nonprofit organizations are a key support pillar to communities in substantial ways. Supporting their economic growth and financial resilience has to be part of the investment made by Greater Atlanta’s philanthropic agents.
In Fall of 2020, United Way identified a cohort of 7 nonprofit organizations, led and serving people of color, to participate in Network for Good’s Jumpstart Capacity BuildingSM program – a year-long program that provides one-on-one coaching, integrated technology tools, fundraising planning, and guidance aimed to help nonprofits build fundraising capacity, diversify revenue, and sustain and grow their programs. Even as the strains of the pandemic continued, the support of the Jumpstart coaches enabled participants to lean in and reap the benefits of the program.
In January of 2022, United Way will sponsor their next cohort of nonprofits in the Jumpstart program. This second effort has grown into a joint funding partnership alongside the Annie E. Casey Foundation Atlanta Civic Site, Jesse Parker Williams Foundation, and the Cobb Community Foundation to expand the participant pool.
Supporting capacity building efforts in the midst of a long-term public health crisis continues to be a journey of discovery. We know that focusing on diverse nonprofits and employing innovative approaches is paramount. With partners like Network for Good, United Way is certain that success lies where capacity building support is accessible, inclusive, and equitable – and centers grantees’ voices in real-time.