26.2 Miles to Transformation: How Capacity Building Helps Organizations Get Marathon Ready

The person who starts the race is not the same person who finishes the race.

Whether you’re competing with others or yourself, a marathon is a test of resilience and endurance. Nobody wakes up one day and runs 26.2 miles. There’s coaching, training and planning geared to your individual challenges. On race day, all that preparation and strategy, investment of time and energy and the skills acquired along the way transform a runner to an athlete.

Some nonprofit organizations want to compete but haven’t thought through everything they’ll need to run the course. They aren’t ready, and sometimes, they don’t know they aren’t ready and don’t know how to prepare. Sometimes they do know but can’t afford the coach – or the entry fee.

Philanthropic organizations want grantmaking to be transformational, leading to sustainable organizations and patient impact, but in South Texas, most nonprofits need more than grants to create lasting change.

To run the race, they need a special set of skills and core capacities—things like strategic or operational plans, or technology. That’s where capacity building comes in. It’s a term you may hear often, but it’s not always understood. Like many funding organizations, Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. uses capacity building to help its subgrantee partners through the Sí Texas Project develop skills and strengths that put them in the race. We don’t run for them; we give them what they need to do it on their own.

Capacity building is a process by which a nonprofit achieves the next level of operational, programmatic, financial, or organizational maturity to more effectively and efficiently advance its mission. Capacity building isn’t an overnight success story, it’s a continuous improvement strategy, and the goal is a sustainable organization working in response to the community.

Methodist Healthcare Ministries’ goal for its eight Sí Texas Project Subgrantees is “athlete,” and we’re grateful to offer the coaching and support to help them reach their goals and serve their communities. 

In 2016, we worked with Hope Family Health Center—one of our subgrantees in McAllen—and recommended capacity-building support that included facilitated strategic planning and help in choosing a new Electronic Health Record (EHR). Rebecca Stocker, Hope’s executive director, says the experience changed their organization in many ways. “The planning process helped us work through issues we might not have seen without the facilitation,” Stocker said. “We now have a blueprint that helps us build development relationships and continue serving our community; this path is much more attainable now.”

The new EHR allowed Hope to add mental and behavioral health services to their primary care structure, increasing the scope of care and services Hope offers to the underserved in the Rio Grande Valley. “We know that offering primary care and behavioral health under one roof improves the lives of our patients in so many ways,” Stocker said. “Our EHR helps practitioners communicate with each other in ways they couldn’t in the past, and it measures the effectiveness of our care with greater accuracy. This is what transformation looks like.”

Shirly Thomas is the Capacity Building Specialist at Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. She manages technical assistance contracts, develops training and sets the strategic direction for the Sí Texas program. Shirly has a Masters in Public Health from Boston University and is eager to see how organizational effectiveness and program support affects philanthropy.