Capacity building: what works, what doesn’t


Vijaya Balaji


4 min read

In the last few years, the attention that organization strengthening, capacity building, or organization development has been gathering, has increased many folds. The surge in the interest has been due to the effectiveness of this exercise in strengthening the institutional capacity of Not for Profit Organizations (NPOs).

Organization development over a period of time enhances the delivery of programs through introduction of systems, processes, strengthening of managerial systems and building managerial competencies in team members. Capacity building which has largely aided organizational development, has not seen a consensus on the standard definition of it or what the envisioned outcomes of capacity building ought to be.

While capacity building is being increasingly recognized as important investment for NPOs, historically the funding of this activity was not a focus for funders. It is only in recent times that it has begun to figure in funders’ budgets. While there is a growing acknowledgement and willingness to support organization development among the funder community, there are certain critical things that need to be addressed:

  1. There is an underestimation of the complexity of the capacity development challenge. Even when capacity development is an explicit goal of programmes, insufficient attention is given to how it can be achieved. There are several efforts in designing and delivering the mechanisms of capacity building programs. In the past about a quarter of donor aid has gone into ‘technical co-operation’, the majority of which was ostensibly aimed at capacity development.
  2. There is a lack of a medium-term results framework to monitor progress. Capacity development is critical because under developed organisations and under-skilled individuals can be the cause of failure for the development efforts. Traditionally a lot of the capacity building efforts have focused on only providing training or on providing technical advisory. Although capacity building, training and grassroots engagement are more accepted now than before, there is still a lot of consensus and alignment required on what these mean and entail. For a lot of funders, trainings and workshops for their grantees is a onetime affair followed by digital interventions once in a while. A number of grass roots level organisations do not necessarily have the means to access online training and intensive coaching, and support such as webinars can only go so far. Often, there is the need to have small rigorous engagements which means working with groups as a learning cohort.
  3. There is a lack of a shared language and definition around capacity building. Currently there aren’t enough platforms for shared learning which can lead to better amalgamation of efforts as opposed to current fragmentation both at the delivery and funding side. This often leads to overlaps.
    While the capacity building efforts have allowed NPOs to build efficiency through the introduction of systems and processes, better engagement with employees and other relevant stakeholder group like advisory and management boards, the need to percolate these efforts across organization staff levels is a must. Whether it is top down or a bottom up, capacity development at individual or organizational level is not uniform and requires a customized and nuanced approach in design and delivery. There is a need to also reorient the approach from “How can we help you?” to a more “What can we do together”, while identifying the adoptive willingness of NPOs and their absorptive capacities for the solutions developed. Conversely, NPOs must recognize the efforts, time and resources that go into the design and delivery of the capacity building initiatives, calling for a framework that tracks implementation and the needle movement in efficiency as an outcome of those efforts. Funding skills and what is perceived traditionally as ‘non program spends’ is gathering importance and there is a need to bring in accountability of the fulfillment of the objectives around the financial and non-financial resources allocated.

In order to address and align the efforts around capacity building there needs to be:

  • A common agreed understanding around the diagnostics and prescriptive efforts for capacity building of organizations and people, and setting up of norms that are largely standardized in the sector;
  • A broad framework on the measurement of the outcomes of capacity building efforts and programs;
  • A more defined approach to adoption and execution of the capacity building initiatives by NPOs and how this aids in program readiness and organization resilience;
  • A largely collaborative approach among the funding community around capacity building and funding considerations.This will allow for greater cooperation among funders and rationalized approach to capacity building especially while co funding a particular NPO and bring in accountability among the key actors that include funders, NPOs, and capacity building intermediaries.

The learning corridor ToolBox India Foundation – an open access learning platform is currently being developed and launched later this year allowing NPOs access to learning & knowledge aids and resources.


A. Environmental Stewardship
To protect the environment, we organize programmes like mangrove nursery and Reforestation, Coastal and River Clean-Up, Community Based Environmental Solid Waste Management, Environmental IEC Campaign and Eco-Academy

B. Food Security and Sustainable Livelihood
To ensure a sustainable livelihood for the community, eco-tourism include Buhatan River Cruise Visitor Center Buhatan River Mangrove Boardwalk are run by the community. Others include Organic Vegetable and Root crops Farming, Vegetable and Root crops Chips and by-products Processing and establishing a Zero waste store.

C. Empowered Communities
To empower the community, we provide product and Agri-Enterprise Development Training, Immersion and Learnings Exchange Program, Earth Warrior Training and Community Based Social Entrepreneurship Training


Vijaya Balaji

Vijaya is amongst the pioneers in advising the social sector to scale and collaborate across stakeholders. Vijaya Balaji joined toolbox INDIA Foundation in 2011 and in her role as CEO, she has its outreach to 275+ NPOs, 325 + projects, and over 650 volunteers across India. She is an evaluator for the global Echoing Green Fellowship. She has incubated Social Lens, a Social Purpose Organization that aims to develop OD solutions for the Social Development Sector. Before her role in the social sector, Vijaya practiced as a finance professional at Kodak and as an educational practitioner at an International school.

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