Capacity Building Grants For Nonprofits

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What are capacity building grants for nonprofit organizations?

To quote an excellent definition from GrantCraft, “Capacity building is fundamentally about improving effectiveness, often at the organizational level. The term is sometimes used interchangeably with other terms like organizational development, institution building, and funding plus.”

What is a capacity-building grant? A capacity-building grant is a financial award to a nonprofit organization used to develop competencies, strategies, systems, and structures in order to improve organizational effectiveness. These capacity-building grant activities strengthen an organization to grow its impact and accomplish its mission and goals.

We previously introduced capacity-building grants in terms of funding for nonprofit leadership development and training. Subsequently, we researched over 21 nonprofit leadership management certificates and programs.

These grants are a fantastic newish trend in philanthropy aimed at impacting sustainability and increasing nonprofit effectiveness.

These grants tend to be one-time awards. In the multi-year award cases, the foundation addresses a single issue that may take multiple years to address fully.

Types of initiatives

When approaching foundations about capacity-building grants, there are generally five types of initiatives.

Building a nonprofit’s organizational capacity 

These grants target specialized funding, rewarding innovation in organizational effectiveness. Think external expert assistance in a program or technical area. 

This might include hiring a nonprofit consultant to help you take the next step in an area of programs or operational excellence.

Some examples might include tools and expertise to offer a new service that is a significant need for your clientele like mental health evaluation, a new summer camp program to provide year-round support to families, or new radiological services.

Better yet, what about an initiative that reduces administrative time to provide a service and increases the capacity of clients you can serve as a direct result of the administrative cost savings. Boom!

Another way to build capacity is by setting the right organizational structure as part of an in-depth organizational design exercise. A very specific organizational development consultant could do you wonders here. We give a good introduction to nonprofit organizational structures and organizational charts in these articles.

General Operating Support (Unrestricted)

Grants in this area have a particular foundation view about unrestricted funding. These foundations see the opportunity for “well run” organizations the flexibility to invest in their organizations as they see fit.

Similar to organizational capacity, these grant types are looking for general support that will provide a specific capacity-building outcome. Think about measuring inputs that will help achieve output measures that allow you to do more or increase the impact of your work.

Be diligent in communicating, measuring, and delivering on specific capacity improvements. 

New Positions/Roles

Sure, you could request funding to kickstart a new position or the leader for a new team.

However, the reality is that most foundations have seen the history of nonprofits using grants to fund positions and then not being able to raise the ongoing donor dollars to keep the position. Not a great investment.

Because of this, we do not recommend making new positions a part of your capacity-building grant unless you can articulate the sustainable funding for the initiative.

Instead, you could include training or intentional onboarding activities as part of a bigger capacity-building grant request. Be creative and thorough when hiring and onboarding of a new team member.

Grants For Contracts with External Providers

These grants fund entities that provide capacity-building services and assistance to nonprofits. At times, this is in the form of a partnership between a foundation and a consultant who serves nonprofits. 

Grants in this category provide a nonprofit leadership development opportunity. Either through a training series of one on one engagement with an organizational current and future leaders.

Peer Learning – Communities of Practice

Grantees often learn better in peer groups, especially around leadership or governance topics. Foundations understand this. 

The grant award is an opportunity to enhance learning and potentially multiply the investment across multiple organizations or programs.


Collaboration awards reflect opportunities around an area of common interest.

You may find multiple foundations sharing the cost to address capacity-building challenges, shared issues, or problems. The result ends up benefiting many organizations where the opportunity exists. 

Where can I find nonprofit capacity building grants?

We always suggest talking with foundations that you already have been awarded grants from first. Often, existing grantees will receive capacity-building grants given their performance on the other awards.  

There are several foundation and grant resources you can use for your research. Here are a few tools that may assist you in finding new foundations offering capacity-building grants. 

  • Instrumentl – This is a team and an online grant assistant platform that will help propel your nonprofit forward with better grant fundraising. And yes, they understand capacity building grants as described in their blog post.
  • Foundation Center – From the people at Candid. Access to 86,203 foundations. There is a fee if you want to use the tool directly. Or you can find a partner location that provides access at no cost. In our area, the local United Way office offers free access. 
  • GrantStation – An online tool that allows access to a database of thousands of foundations. This tool is $169/year. 
  • State Nonprofit Associations – Most states in the U.S. have a state nonprofit association. Most have resources regarding foundations and grant opportunities. See the Council of Nonprofits finder to get your state’s contact information.
  • GrantAdvisor – An online service where nonprofits provide reviews about various foundations and grants in an anonymous manner. The goal here is transparency.
  • GrantScape – An online paid service provides access to search foundations, local, state, and federal grant opportunities. Pricing ranges from $29/month to $158.25/month.
  • – Looking for U.S. federal grants, try this on for size. We found 140 capacity building grants available to 501(c)3 nonprofits as of this writing.
  • GrantGopher – A paid subscription service started by a nonprofit worker. Prices range from Free to $49/month.
  • GrantWatch – Access to over 4,200 nonprofit grant opportunities.
  • Terra Vivia Grants Directory – For grants in the agriculture, energy, environment, and natural resources space in developing countries. 

Foundations providing capacity building grants for nonprofit organizations

Where can I find capacity-building grants to apply for to increase the growth and capacity of my nonprofit? We’ve found a few to give you a kickstart and listed them below.

Foundations that provide capacity-building grants include:

Webber Family Foundation – For Texas nonprofits, the Webber Family Foundation has a mission with their capacity-building grants of helping lower-income youth perform at the highest levels of achievement in academics and the arts. There are currently three areas of focus: school readiness/early literacy, out-of-school time programs for grades 6-12, and Charter schools.

Grunin Foundation – A new addition to our list, the Grunin Foundation has a passion to equip nonprofits and nonprofit leaders with the tools, knowledge, and support to accelerate their impact. We love the Six “C”s they use: Curiosity, Conversation, Collaboration, Community, Compassion, Capacity.

The Clowes Fund – Grants provide funding that strengthens an organization to better fulfill its mission.

The Winston-Salem Foundation – The Foundation makes capacity-building grants for activities and projects that will help Forsyth County nonprofits enhance their internal operations to better fulfill their missions and achieve more impactful outcomes.

John Rex Endowment – Build the strength and sustainability of nonprofit organizations that support Wake County children in living healthy lives.

The Cook Family Foundation – The Cook Family Foundation works with nonprofit organizations based in Shiawassee County to strengthen their ability to carry out their mission.

Central Carolina Community Foundation – Capacity Building mini-grants provide funds to nonprofits to assist with organizational and financial stability, program quality, and growth; allowing them to carry out their missions more effectively. 

St. David’s Foundation – Through grants, workshops, and various multi-year initiatives, St. David’s Foundation supports grant partners in learning from each other and from outside experts.

Ausherman Family Foundation – Capacity Building Grants assist nonprofits in achieving new levels of effectiveness. The Foundation’s purpose is to strengthen Frederick County’s nonprofit organizations’ leadership and management by helping them build systems and find resources to facilitate the organization’s progress in achieving the goals.

Santa Barbara Foundation – The Small Capacity Building Grant Program awards grants with a short review period aimed at strengthening the organizational capacity and programmatic effectiveness of Santa Barbara County nonprofits.

Aspen Institute – The Aspen Institute Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation and JPMorgan Chase & Co. offers a nonprofit capacity-building program.

William T. Grant Foundation – The Youth Service Capacity-Building Grants (YSCG) program supports activities to strengthen small nonprofit organizations’ organizational infrastructure in the five boroughs of New York City that provide direct services to young people ages 5 to 25.

The Retirement Research Foundation – RRF awards OCB Grants to help Illinois nonprofits that serve older people make fundamental improvements to key management systems and governance.

Community Foundation of Greater Memphis – The Community Foundation of Greater Memphis seeks to address the organizational strength and overall health of nonprofits in the Mid-South by supporting their capacity-building efforts through financial grants. Funding has been reallocated to COVID-related projects until 2021.

Disabled Veterans National Foundation – Provides grants to like-minded organizations that provide support to veterans and disabled veterans alike.

Quad Cities Community Foundation – Nonprofit Capacity Building Grants strengthen nonprofits by increasing their core capacities to carry out their missions. This program focuses on capacity-building projects that improve an identified area of organizational capacity, including (but not limited to) leadership, governance, mission & strategy, evaluation, financial management, program delivery, fund development, communications, collaboration, or equity.

Meyer Foundation – We partner with organizations and projects that build communities’ power to reimagine, recreate, and reform systems to achieve racial equity. Download the Capacity Building grant guide.

Wilburforce Foundation – The capacity-building resources offered are designed to maximize impact through customized programs that are contextual, continuous, and collaborative.

Communication Service for the Deaf – Provides CB grants to organizations that work in and with deaf communities.

Sacramento Region Community Foundation – The Capacity Building Micro-Grant program swiftly supports organizations pursuing capacity-related projects that will greatly impact their ability to serve the community.

Chelsea Community Foundation – Southeast Michigan. Opportunities for 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations in the Chelsea area to apply for leadership development and capacity-building activities.

Staunton Farm Foundation – Capacity building refers to developing and strengthening organizations and communities’ resources to survive and adapt in today’s environment. The Foundation supports grants up to $25,000 for capacity building.

Tracy Family Foundation – The purpose of the TFF Capacity Building Grant Program is to help organizations acquire the necessary knowledge, tools, and resources to develop, implement, and assess targeted improvements in their work. Up to $5,000.

Healthcare Initiative Foundation – The Healthcare Initiative Foundation Awards $740,550 in the FY20 Capacity Building Grant Cycle to #24 Nonprofit Organizations. Projected to Impact Nearly 70,000 individuals.

Legacy Foundation – Legacy Foundation, Crown Point Community Foundation, and Foundations of East Chicago are partnering to offer grants of up to $5,000 to help nonprofit organizations develop and/or implement an Emergency Preparedness or Strategic Restructuring plan.

Lancaster County Community Foundation – The grant supports capacity-building work designed to help fulfill an organization’s mission.

Community Foundation of Greater Demoines – This accredited community foundation provides capacity-building grants through its Better Together fund.

Retirement Research Foundation – Award Organizational Capacity Building Grants to help Illinois nonprofits that serve older people make fundamental improvements to key management systems and governance.

National Institute For Food And Agriculture – Here’s an example of a United States government grant program for nonprofits in the agriculture space. This CBG is specific to Non-Land-Grant Colleges of Agriculture Program (NLGCA) and can even be used to help compete for other federal grants. Wow!


Capacity Building Grants for nonprofit organizations is an increasing trend in philanthropy.

From nonprofit leadership development, technical assistance, and process improvements, grant awards empower organizations for the future. 

Gaining access to Foundation and Grant databases will provide an opportunity


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