Capacity-Building Grants: Learn to Be a Self-Sustaining Nonprofit, Part 2
[Editor’s note: This is part 2 of a two-part series. Read part 1 here.]
Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento is one funder that provides capacity-building grants as an alternative to strictly cash grants. The goal is to provide consultation and resources to teach nonprofits how to become self-sustaining for the long haul.
River City Food Bank (RCFB) was the second recipient of Sutter’s capacity-building grant, receiving the 12-month grant in 2009. The California-based food bank is an established but small organization. Founded in 1968 as River City Community Services — the name it still went by when it first received the Sutter grant — it had just two part-time employees at the time, says Executive Director Eileen Thomas, “and our time was spent almost completely with our mission.”
That left little time to think about long-term planning, but Thomas knew her organization needed some help. That’s what attracted her so much to the capacity-building grant.
“It was very appealing to us because we’re a fairly small nonprofit that’s been around for a long time that has never been able to maximize community support and get our word out to the community about the work that we do,” Thomas says.
One of the reasons for that, says Tom Gagen, CEO of Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento, is that “people had a misunderstanding of what they did when you talk about community services versus a food bank.”
So the first thing Sutter and its capacity-building partner, 3fold Communications — a nonprofit marketing agency — did with River City Community Services was change its name to River City Food Bank to make it clear to community just what the organization does. From there, 3fold and RCFB mapped out a basic marketing plan, which included:
- a website redesign;
- what grants to go after;
- what appeals to make;
- what programs to grow and how to grow them.
RCFB also expanded its major fundraiser, Empty Bowls, which 3fold helped maximize into a corporate-sponsor cultivation event. Empty Bowls had been bringing in around $56,000 annually for the food bank and relied heavily on volunteers. With the help of 3fold, that total increased to $89,000 the following year and more than $100,000 the year after that, Thomas says.