Point the Way: Chicago-area Capacity Building Landscape Study



In 2015, a group of funders gathered to better understand the availability of quality capacity building services for the nonprofit sector in the Chicago area. They convened a Steering Committee and established an initiative called Point the Way, the long-term goal of which is to unite and coordinate efforts to improve capacity building in Chicago. As an initial step, the Steering Committee sought to understand the current landscape of capacity building needs and services in the Chicago area.

The Steering Committee hired LFA to conduct a study on nonprofit capacity building in the greater Chicago area and beyond, and the experiences of those that use, deliver, and invest in them. Over the course of the study, over 400 nonprofits, capacity building providers, and funders provided input on the capacity building supports needed by individual nonprofits and shared their perspective on the ecosystem of capacity building in Chicago. The study includes in-depth focus group data about the experiences of nonprofits receiving capacity building assistance, and the perspective of capacity building providers. It also incorporates a robust review of the latest literature on capacity building best practices and trends, and explores three regional model capacity building programs (Third Sector New England in Boston, 501 Commons in Seattle, and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving’s Nonprofit Support Program) to understand why they are successful and what lessons they can offer to consumers and providers of, and investors in, capacity building in the greater Chicago area.

The work culminated in March 2017 with recommendations on how Chicago-area nonprofits, funders, and capacity building providers can work together to strengthen supports for nonprofits. The collective recommendations call for prioritizing under-resourced communities; comprehensive, sequential support; and identifying new ways to connect nonprofits to resources and each other. The Steering Committee plans to utilize these recommendations to work towards a revitalized, robust capacity building sector in the Chicago area.