What We're Thinking

Capacity Building on a Large Scale: How Can We Support Movement Builders and Leaders?

First, organizations, then networks, now movements…

Many of us in the capacity building sector started our work focused primarily or exclusively on strengthening organizations. At first, borrowing from the best practices of the business world, we developed business plans, performance management systems, and financial metrics. Over time, a nonprofit capacity building sector emerged and matured, and we adjusted organizational development work to reflect the needs and structures of the mission-driven organizations at the heart of the work. We created tools and approaches, such as organizational assessments, to analyze the many different metrics that should be met for an organization to grow, thrive, and be effective. Recognizing that organizations do not work in isolation, an increasing number of capacity builders and organizations turned their attention to the issues of network development and collaborative work as powerful tools for achieving social change.

Reflecting on the successful major social changes in recent history, such as civil rights, women’s rights, and marriage equality, we see accompanying, complex social movements that galvanize people to come together under a common vision. At the heart of the conversation for each of these social movements was a complex web of organizations, networks, and individuals that elevated and changed the conversation on a given topic or issue.

In this modern moment, we ask, “How do we as capacity builders support building movements? How do we build the capacity of individuals and organizations to be movement builders and leaders rather than focused solely on their individual organizational goals? What kinds of institutions and structures will result in the change we wish to see? And will the capacity building needs of these flexible structures and movements look wholly different from traditional capacity building for organizations?”

More and more our program colleagues at the Packard Foundation and our grantee partners are coming to us asking for support to build movements. In response, we have helped design and support a handful of leadership development programs focused on movement building, and we are looking to learn more about the role of capacity building in movement building and strengthening. Although this burgeoning area of capacity building currently raises more questions than it answers, we know there is power in exploring these questions. Our knowledge on the topic is still at an early stage, but in an effort to begin to share what we are learning, we have established a new topic area on our Knowledge Center focused on Building the Capacity of Fields and Movements.

Please check out the resources we have gathered and send along additional resources for this emerging topic. And let us know, how have you built capacity for fields and movements in your work? How is this similar or different from capacity building for individual organizations?

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