Faculty, students hope nonprofit capacity report proves valuable

Researching and executing a report about nonprofit capacity in the Mid-Ohio Valley was a major accomplishment for Marietta College’s McDonough Center for Leadership and Business.

While the report offers a better understanding of the challenges and even provides suggestions, what is even more exciting for those involved with the project is that the work is not done.

“They’ve offered a number of recommendations, and I’m excited that many of those were creative suggestions like finding volunteers and interns instead of saying you need more employees,” says Sister Jane Harrington, Executive Director of the Sisters of St. Joseph Charitable Fund in Parkersburg, W.Va. “I am also excited that we are going to regroup soon, take a look at those recommendations and develop a response.”

As part of a comprehensive study conducted under a grant from The Sisters of St. Joseph Charitable Fund, McDonough recently issued the report, entitled “An Analysis of Nonprofit Capacity Building in the Mid-Ohio Valley.” In the report, Dr. Tanya Judd Pucella, Assistant Professor of Leadership Studies and McDonough’s Director of Civic Engagement, examines the capacity-building challenges and technical assistance needs of nonprofit organizations in an 11-county region in southeastern Ohio and west central West Virginia.

The study asked participating organizations to identify and assess themselves on seven primary dimensions of capacity building: financial resource capacity; human resource capacity; information technology capacity; networking and advocacy capacity; marketing capacity; programs and planning capacity; and operations and governance capacity.

“This will benefit the nonprofit organizations by ensuring that the funders, as well as the community at large, have solid, research-based information about the capacity-building challenges nonprofits are facing and the potential effectiveness of strategies for meeting those challenges,” Judd Pucella says.

McDonough Dean Dr. Gama Perruci says the purpose of the research project was to help develop a common understanding of the capacity-building challenges faced by nonprofit organizations in the region. The research results should help interested members of the funding community in developing systematic approaches to support the organizational health of local nonprofits in addition to their programmatic requests.

“The report will help the nonprofit community have a substantive conversation about their needs and priorities,” Perruci says. “The sector now has meaningful data that they can draw from in order to shape their future. This study fits really well with one of the Core Values of the College to serve the region and be a participant in the life of the community—it is a wonderful demonstration of civic engagement.”

Based on survey responses and focus groups, seven of the top ten most pervasive needs identified in the study relate to financial resources and the need for effective fundraising—obtaining funding, expanding the donor base, developing capital campaigns, building endowments, securing corporate or foundation support, acquiring government grants and writing proposals.

“Funders hold tremendous sway over their current and potential grantees, who are always looking for ways to make themselves attractive, and therefore worthy of funding,” Judd Pucella says in the report. “With such influence, the funding community has the ability to convey the importance of focusing on organizational development in a variety of ways, many of which may cost very little in terms of money or time.”

The report offers a variety of recommendations under six categories:

  • Funding assistance for capacity building emerged as the primary recommendation based on both the quantitative and qualitative findings of this study.
  • The study urged funding entities to demonstrate support for the capacity development initiatives of nonprofit organizations.
  • The study urged funding entities to support educational opportunities for nonprofit leaders (e.g., fundraising workshops, board governance workshops, scholarships).
  • The study urged nonprofit organizations to facilitate effective networking and resource sharing among themselves (e.g., networking luncheons, peer mentoring network, establishing a regional discussion board for nonprofit organizations, raising awareness of regional resources, document sharing and templates).
  • The study encouraged the nonprofit sector in the region to enhance technical assistance opportunities (e.g., the use of a consultant directory, student interns, and service-learning projects).
  • The study encouraged the nonprofit sector to create a Regional Capacity-Building Office—the establishment of an administrative structure to support capacity-building initiatives.

“In this study of the capacity needs of organizations that contribute so much to the quality of life in our community, the Sisters of St. Joseph Charitable Fund enabled Marietta College to design a way to listen to the people who are the heart and soul of these organizations, and to share their stories with others in the community who want to see them succeed,” says Beth McNally, Marietta College Grant Officer. “I hope this study is the beginning of many conversations that lead to the development of new and rich opportunities for community-based organizations.”

The study involved students in the research part of the project. “It was a great opportunity to involve our students in the development of a major study,” Perruci says. “It was not a simulation—it was a hands-on experience dealing with a ‘real-world’ scenario. The project findings will have a meaningful impact in the capacity-building efforts of the local nonprofit organizations.”

McNally adds, “The analysis of the capacity needs of nonprofit organizations in the Mid-Ohio Valley is one step in a series that demonstrates Marietta College’s commitment to service in this region. Establishing the Office for Civic Engagement at the McDonough Center, providing a VISTA volunteer to organize effective campus responses to community needs, and sponsoring a Cooperating Collection of the Foundation Center at the Legacy Library are other areas where the college makes its personnel, facilities, and resources available for the local public good.”

Perruci says the report is receiving good reviews. Aside from requests for the report from local organizations, the Center has received inquiries from other parts of the country and even several countries. In the January 2010 issue of the Ohio Campus Compact (OCC) Newsletter, Richard Kinsley, OCC Executive Director, told its members that, “While some information generated from this study is specific to the region examined, much is applicable to other regions across Ohio.”