To build capacity, nonprofits first need to do a careful needs assessment, looking at the organization as a living system and figuring out a strategy for how to strengthen it. Basic questions about capacity building, which any nonprofit might use to start a discussion among staff or board, are the following:

1. What kinds of needs for improvement do we have at the present time?

2. Are we ready to build capacity to meet these needs better?

  • Do we have the resources (financial, personnel, etc.) to undertake capacity building?
  • Are we agreed among staff, board and executive director about the need for capacity building and the right way to do it?
  • Is anything else happening in our organization or in the community that we should take account of in planning for capacity building? (other major changes or capacity-building efforts happening at the same time, a crisis or problem that absorbing all our energy, etc.)

3. Who will lead the capacity-building work inside our organization?

4. How will we find the capacity-building information or technical assistance to help us?

5. How will we know when we succeed?

Specific subject areas in which capacity building may be needed include:

  • Advocacy
  • Ethics
  • Evaluation
  • Financial Management
  • General Leadership
  • General Management
  • Governance
  • Human Resource Management
  • Information Systems
  • Legal
  • Marketing
  • Operational Management
  • Organization, Design and Structure
  • Resource Development
  • Strategic Planning

Other tools can help a nonprofit assess its needs for capacity building, develop a plan of action to do so, and measure progress over time. Some of these assessment tools are free of charge and relatively easy to use. Others must be purchased from their developers, are more complex, and may require a substantial financial and time investment.

The following chart features 8 self-assessment tools nonprofits may use as part of planning for capacity building. Information on cost, level of complexity (low-medium-high) and estimated time to complete are included for each. Most can be used by any type of nonprofit, though a few were constructed specifically for one area, such as the arts (titles indicate clearly which these are). To find out more about a tool, click on its title and you will be connected to the developer’s website.

No endorsement is implied for any of the tools listed below in alphabetical order, and there are many other valuable capacity-building assessment tools that are not mentioned here.

  Cost Complexity Time to Complete
BoardSource Board of Directors Self Assessment Survey$749 members,
$975 non-members
Low5 - 15 hrs.
British Columbia Ministry for Children & Families Cultural Competency Assessment ToolFreeLowMore than 15 hrs.
CompassPoint Board Self-Assessment SurveyFreeLow15 minutes
Communications Effectiveness Quiz by Cause CommunicationsFreeLow/MediumLess than 30 min.
Greater Twin Cities United Way Checklist of Nonprofit Organization IndicatorsFree to downloadLowLess than 15 hrs.
Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence in MichiganFreeMedium2-3 hours
TCC Group Core Capacity Assessment Tool$350 for one organizationHigh45-60 minutes
Wilder Collaboration Factors InventoryFree onlineLowLess than 5 hrs.

Note: Appearance of activities, publications or organizations in these website listings does not constitute any type of endorsement from the Dwight Stuart Youth Fund. These listings are provided solely for informational purposes.