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Capacity Building Tool #1: Assessment and Benchmarking

Background and Introduction

In capacity building initiatives, good assessment provides the basis for action planning and implementation that achieves results and builds organizations’ strengths.  Assessment helps organizations move beyond old thinking, enables them to ask the hard questions and go deeper than they may typically be inclined to do.  It helps them build consensus about the organization’s current status and aspirations.  Good assessment also helps organizations avoid taking a piecemeal approach to complex and interrelated capacity building issues.

This tool is designed to provide nonprofits with an instrument that will guide the assessment of their internal capacity.  The tool borrows from the good practices of other nation-wide capacity building efforts1 and tools and input from funders, nonprofit leaders and others experts.  The tool assesses capacity levels in six interrelated areas as defined by the capacity building model2.  These areas are:

  • Mission, Vision and Strategy--the driving forces that give the organization its purpose and direction. 

  • Service Delivery and Impact--the primary reasons for the organization’s existence. 

  • Strategic Relationships, Resource Development, and Internal Management and Operations—the necessary mechanisms to achieve the organization’s ends. 

  • Governance and Leadership--the lubricant that keeps all the parts aligned and moving. 

In addition, the tool is designed to:

  • Achieve a balance between comprehensiveness and realistic length.  The tool could include many more questions/cells but, in order to keep the length “reasonable” items were limited to the most important issues.  Additional assessment tools are available for specific issues and can be used to delve further into selected areas if determined appropriate.

  • Enable the users to both assess their nonprofit’s current and desired status.  The tool lists four levels of capacity for each capacity area.  This enables users to identify the current status of their nonprofit’s capacity as well as form a concrete picture of what other levels of capacity look like.  This is especially helpful in setting goals as it eliminates much of the guesswork regarding what achieving the next level of capacity requires.

A final note: Users will note that descriptions of capacity levels often contain more than one concept.  This is intentional as level of capacity is often defined by a set of interrelated concepts. Additional guidance on use of the Assessment will be found on page 1 of the Capacity Building Tool #1: Assessment and Benchmarking

1 The McKinsey Capacity Assessment Grid, developed for Venture Philanthropy Partners, provides the format and some content upon which the Center for Public Skills Training Assessment Tool is based.
2 Paul Connelly and Carol Lukas propose a capacity building model upon which the GLA model is based; see Strengthening Nonprofit Performance: A Funder’s Guide to Capacity Building, Amherst Wilder Foundation, 2002.


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Revised: June 20, 2016