My View | Heather Peeler: How to help local nonprofits excel

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Heather Peeler
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To the editor:

Was there a time when someone helped you achieve your goals? Perhaps it was a teacher, mentor or friend who helped you learn new skills, develop an action plan or connect you with others who shared your dreams and ambitions. Talk to any entrepreneur, civic
leader or colleague who has achieved success and they will excitedly recognize the people who have helped them grow and develop.

This type of support in the nonprofit sector is called capacity building. The term may be jargon, but the concept is simple: Capacity building is about acquiring the skills, know-how and experience to take an organization’s work and impact to the next level.

Since 2005, ACT for Alexandria, Alexandria’s community foundation, has invested more than $1 million to build the organizational capacity of 40 Alexandria nonprofits. We have supported strategic plans, fundraising strategies and marketing plans. Other grants have enabled the purchase of financial management software or leadership training.

Nonprofits come to ACT to support the behind-the-scenes work that enables their organizations to serve more people, reach new audiences and generate critical resources to sustain their work over the long term. We believe strong organizations are crucial if we want our community’s nonprofits to offer high quality programs that deliver results.

In 2019, ACT focused its grantmaking on strategic planning, community engagement and racial equity. Requests for support from nonprofits have grown. This year we received 25 percent more grant requests than last year. Thirty-two organizations asked for support totaling more than $350,000. This growth speaks to the desire of leaders to build strong organizations that can meet the needs of our community.

As I read through this year’s grant requests, I was struck by the creativity, ingenuity and strategic thinking that nonprofit leaders are bringing to their work. They are creating new ways to engage with their constituents and deepen their understanding about what works. They are exploring new ways to grow and diversify their fundraising.

Nonprofit leaders know that they can’t rely on status quo funding if they want to serve our community in the years to come. Other organizations requested support to help them prepare for expansion. Despite the prosperity of our community, demand is growing for services that address basic human needs and Alexandria’s nonprofits are stepping up to fill in the gap. And they want to deepen their understanding of systemic racism and racial equity so that they can address the root causes of the challenges faced by our community.

It won’t be easy to make final decisions in light of these worthy initiatives. ACT’s funding pool for these grants is $100,000; we will only be able to fund less than a third of the requests.

Next time you consider a donation to a nonprofit, ask them about what they need to strengthen their organization. Your donation will build their capacity and yield dividends from the nonprofit’s long-term success.

The writer is president and CEO of ACT for Alexandria.

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