Chapter 4: The Capacity Improvement Plan

Chapter 4: The Capacity Improvement Plan

Chapter 3 provided guidance for organizational self-assessment as a way to lay the ground work for setting capacity improvement goals and plans, the subject of this chapter.

Capacity Improvement Planning

Through facilitated dialogue and reflection on the assessment results, leaders identify and prioritize the capacity improvement goals that the organization will work to achieve. The mentor supports the organization in setting goals that are grounded in the realities of the community where they work and their organization’s capacity and possibilities.

The elements of the Capacity Improvement Plan will typically include:

  • The organization’s Mission, Vision and Values
  • Desired long-term capacity improvement outcomes
  • Capacity improvement goals
  • Milestones to reach within specific timeframes to achieve goals
  • Actions required to reach milestones
  • People responsible for leading actions
  • Resources and support the organization will need to implement the plan.

We’ve included a sample Capacity Improvement Plan Template in the Mentor’s Toolbox.

Mentoring for Implementation and Long-Term Support

Once the capacity improvement plan is adopted and the organization has clear goals, the mentoring process transitions to supporting the implementation of the plan and to working alongside leaders, as they work on their own growth and development.  Although the plan has specific action steps, the mentorship extends beyond the structure of the plan to address any unexpected issues that may arise for the organization and any concerns impacting the leaders.  The mentor also supports the organization in amending and updating the plan as needed.

The mentoring process includes the following elements:

  •  Regularly scheduled meetings, usually monthly. Although meetings may be held via phone or video conference occasionally, in-person meetings are more effective in strengthening the relationships and learning about the environment and culture of the organization. It is important to note that many small or nascent organizations will not have a facility or offices of their own. Meetings may be held at other locations, including homes or coffee shops. Flexibility is needed for the days and times when meetings are held, particularly if volunteers are part of the leadership team being mentored.
  • Other opportunities for communicating– Leaders and mentors may also have impromptu meetings in person, telephone, or video conference as needed.  Calls in which the mentor act as sounding board for exploring options, problem solving, conflict resolution or simply “a friendly ear” are common and helpful. In phone calls, emails or texts, leaders often seek advice on issues that surface between meetings or for moral support on burnout, life-work balance, unexpected problems, conflict, fear of failure, or self-doubt.

Providing Additional Support

Additional support includes:

  • Following up on issues discussed at the meetings.
  • Making referrals to consultants.
  • Providing sample tools and templates, journal articles and other reading materials, websites, names of peers or colleagues who can also provide advice, etc.
  • Assessing progress with consultants and other TA providers, including review the effectiveness of the relationship with the consultant, the alignment with the agreed scope of work, and the ability of the group to adapt and adopt what they learn and act on recommendations.
  • Sharing announcements of opportunities, such as training, conferences, grants, etc.
  • Presenting at board or committee meetings. Occasionally the organization needs an orientation on the use of resources or facilitation of a conversation to overcome an obstacle and arrive at a decision. The mentor can be an objective facilitator and trainer.
  • Reviewing documents. Leaders may sometimes ask the mentor to review materials they’ve created and provide feedback.  These include job descriptions, strategic and others plans, case statements, grant proposals, etc. They may also ask for a review of plans developed with a consultant to ensure alignment with other organizational plans.

Keeping Groups on Track

The Capacity Improvement Plan is a roadmap for tracking the group’s progress. At regularly scheduled meetings, the leaders and mentors review movement toward milestones based on the timeframe the group adopted for their goals. Through this review, challenges that impede progress are also identified, as well as changes in the organization and community that may require shift in direction or a modification of the plans. This may include changes in the consultant or other resources used, and funding reallocation for technical assistance. The mentor and leaders work together to review options and support the organization in making those decisions. The mentor may also provide guidance or facilitation in communicating with the funders who provided the financial support for those resources.

If the mentor is working with the group over a number of years, it is helpful to update the Organizational Assessment and Capacity Improvement Plan annually to ensure that the organization reflects on its progress and that plans remain relevant in moving the organization forward, as the organization evolves and as community conditions change.

If the mentor is working in partnership with a funder, the mentor can also play an important role in ensuring that grant applications and reports meet the required deadlines.

The mentor can also systematically track progress with a Tracking Sheet. The Tracking Sheet is a log a mentor can use to document their interaction with the groups, follow-up steps to take, resources to provide, and the group’s major milestones.  It is a useful running history of the group’s path toward achieving their goals and of the lessons learned along the way by the leaders and the mentor.

Sample Tracking Notes

Group ABC

  • October 2018 – Resident Advisory Council will support new program direction and expand its membership. Exploring ways to facilitate meetings to overcome travel and scheduling challenges.
  • November 2018 – New Capacity Improvement Plan was developed to provide a capacity building path for the new program, focusing on: (1) Strengthening partnerships; (2) Developing relationships with families; (3) Developing a sustainability plan for the organization.
Group XYZ 

  • June 2018 – Evaluating opportunities to expand earned income. Planning board retreat to discuss long-term direction of organization and the organizational structure, staffing resources, etc. that will be necessary to support it.
  •  July 2018 – Transitioning Program Assistant to Program Coordinator. Requested advice on finding a consultant to conduct salary survey and to guide them through the process of writing job descriptions, etc.  Provided list of consultants and resources to consider, as well as recommended they reach out to Group ABC, who just went through that process.
Group NMQ

  • May 2018 –  Experienced significant progress in the past year. Have increased staffing, expanded programs and have grown in visibility and influence in their field of work through strategic partnerships. Also increased ability in financial management.
  •  June 2018 – Called to discuss concern about need to expand fund development plans. Feeling some pressure to accelerate fund development activities due to expansion of staff and programs in the coming year. Will focus our August meeting on fund development planning.

When is it Time to Change Direction?

Through consistent communication with leaders and by carefully monitoring the organization’s progress, the mentor will become aware of moments when it is time to consider adjusting the original capacity building direction. Those moments are commonly found when:

  • Improvement strategies require a course correction. After attempting to implement changes using selected strategies and actions, the group may find that other approaches might be more effective. Also, conditions in the organization and/or community may change significantly, thus requiring a course correction in the organization’s plans.  The mentor supports this process by facilitating analysis, asking strategic questions, proposing new options and connecting to new resources.
  • There is a leadership change. Such a change may require a period of learning and adjusting to a new leader’s style and level of experience. Although the organization’s vision and mission do not change, the priorities and timelines may need to be adjusted. The new leader will likely bring new ideas and approaches to achieving the organization’s goals. The mentor will need to work with the leadership team and the new leader to assess progress on the original plan, who will consider new options and adjust the plans accordingly.
  • A crisis arises. Strong organizations can adapt to sudden change and are able to respond to crises without jeopardizing the organization’s stability. However, others may not have the experience and tools to manage change under crisis conditions. The organization’s mentor can act as a calming influence and play a significant role as a supportive ally, facilitator of difficult conversations, and connector to other resources or advisors to support the organization through difficult times.
  • It’s time for the mentor to exit.  Developing self-reliance in the organization and expanding its network of support will help prepare the organization for the mentor’s departure. The mentor’s eventual exit should be part of the mentorship plan developed in partnership with the organization. It can help if the exit is gradual, allowing for occasional calls and communication after the formal relationship ends.

Celebrate Achievement!

As the relationship between the mentor and organization ends, reflecting on and celebrating progress toward achieving the goals – and moving closer to the vision set at the beginning – provides a shot of energy and inspiration for the future. Part of the reflection can include a discussion on how the organization will continue to make capacity building part of its culture. By now, the organization will have had sufficient experience to understand and appreciate of the value of self-assessment and capacity improvement planning. They will also have learned how to access and use relevant resources – getting the help they need to support their growth.