Supporting the Small But Mighty: Capacity Building for Smaller Nonprofits

Supporting the Small But Mighty: Capacity Building for Smaller Nonprofits

Kaki Rusmore, Director, Center for NonprofitBy Kaki Rusmore, Director, Center for Nonprofit Excellence of the Community Foundation for Monterey County

This blog originally appeared in the Alliance for Nonprofit Management September 2019

Between 50 and 75 percent of nonprofit organizations have budgets under $100,000 and less than two staff members. Many are all volunteer. Small, grassroots organizations are often deeply embedded in their communities and committed to social justice. Yet, capacity building strategies often assume levels of organizational infrastructure not present in these organizations. And, those providing capacity building services may think they have the answers and that organizations they are assisting are passive receivers of skills and abilities.

One-Size Solutions Don’t Fit All

CNE Hope Horse and Kids

Coach/mentors (l) on a site visit with staff from CFMC Grantee Hope, Horses and Kids (Salinas, CA)

Often those providing the capacity building are not from the nonprofits’ communities and arrive with a one-size-fits-all solution. Layers of race, class, funder and other types of privilege can also diminish the potential for authentic development of key capacities for sustainable social change organizations.

How can we best support these small organizations whose commitment and volunteers are critical to the well-being and future of our communities?

A New Approach

Over the past 12 years, the Center for Nonprofit Excellence (CNE) of the Community Foundation for Monterey County (CFMC) has developed an approach to place these smallest organizations at the center of capacity building efforts and support them in ways that demonstrate respect and understanding for their unique circumstances and development process.

The CFMC/CNE approach includes multi-year general operating support, a focus on capacity building goals set by the nonprofits, training and peer learning, and coach/mentors.


CNE Next Steps: Gathering for Women

Leadership structure and dreams.Coach/Mentors meet with Executive Director and Board Chair (r) at Gathering for Women (Monterey, CA)

The coach/mentor is an experienced consultant with a deep understanding of the community and the ability to support these organizations based on their present organizational development.

The coach/mentor listens deeply to the organizations and assists them to

  • assess their organizational development needs and strengths
  •  develop multiyear plans to strengthen the organization
  • connect to capacity building resources (information, training, peers, consultants, etc.)
  •  resolve challenges and move forward by acting as a sounding board
  •  stay focused on their capacity building goals while advancing on programs

Getting Results

The coach/mentor’s wisdom, humility and commitment to the organization’s situation has helped this approach be successful in five completed cohorts and one underway. These include Communities Advancing the Arts, Community Leadership Project (Phase 1 &2), Futer Essential Human Services Program and Next Steps for Small Nonprofits.

The Next Steps program provided a structured and holistic approach that guided us through every phase of our capacity building effort. The mentorship, training, and peer exchanges offered the support and encouragement we needed to strengthen our core capacities and advance our social justice mission.” – Catherine Crockett, Monterey Peace and Justice Center

Building Resources

Based on this success, the Center for Nonprofit Excellence recognized the need to develop more coach/mentors. Two individuals were trained and worked closely with existing coach/mentors for two years and are now fulfilling this role on their own.

Mentor Toolbox

We also developed an online resource tool for those interested in becoming or supporting coach/mentors, soon to be available at

This approach to capacity building, and the online resource, will be explored in the 2019 Alliance for Nonprofit Management Capacity Building Conference workshop, “Developing Grassroots Capacity Building Mentors.”

We would love to learn from other capacity builders experimenting with similar approaches.

Kaki Rusmore is Director of the Center of Nonprofit Excellence of the Community Foundation for Monterey County where she develops, facilitates, and manages programs to strengthen the ability of local nonprofit organizations and networks to meet their mission. Kaki brings over 30 years capacity building experience to her role, and supports nonprofits and leaders in building equitable, caring, sustainable communities. Contact her at 831.375.9712 or