The New Normal: Capacity Building During a Time of Disruption

Published May 2018
By: Adene Sacks, Heather McLeod Grant, Kate Wilkinson

How is the current economic and political environment impacting the capacity building needs of social-change leaders, nonprofits, networks, and movements? How are funders responding to these changing needs, and how can they better support this work going forward?

In The New Normal: Capacity Building During a Time of Disruption, we explore these questions and make recommendations for how philanthropy can better support social change during a time of upheaval. Informed by conversations with 21 nonprofit and philanthropy leaders, and supported by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the report takes a closer look at the impact of the 2016 U.S. election and its aftermath on the social sector. Before the election, the social sector was already expanding the definition of “capacity building” to include organizational effectiveness, along with bolstering nonprofit leaders, networks, and movements. But the new administration’s policies threaten to undermine decades of work on issues like immigration, women’s rights, civil rights, and the environment. Combined with cuts to social services and a tax bill that decreases incentives for giving, the social sector and civil society are facing a disruption of yet unknown proportions.

In the report, we explore what nonprofits are struggling with now, what they need to be effective, and how philanthropy can better respond to their current needs. “We believe this is a moment of reckoning in our sector—a moment of both crisis and opportunity,” we write. “If this moment of disruption has a silver lining, it’s that we’ve effectively broken the old social-change model and now have an opportunity to invent a new one.”

The reality is that our organizational capacity needs are huge. Historic under-resourcing means that everything under the sun is needed: access to funding, training on fundraising, training on board and organizational development.