Member Highlight: Andrea Young Kellum

"Capacity-building" is a term heard often anytime enough grantmakers are in the room. The general idea -- investing in the infrastructure of a nonprofit organization, as opposed to a specific program -- is a firmly established trend.

But what does it actually look like in practice? And how can a desire to boost nonprofit capacity be balanced with the need to invest in programs that directly support people in need?

These are difficult questions, but Southern grantmakers aren't shying away from them. At the Healthcare Georgia Foundation, senior program officer Andrea Young Kellum has devoted plenty of thought to the subject -- in fact, her reflections on the topic have received attention on the national level. A blog post she wrote last year, The Audacity of Building Capacity, was recently featured in a newsletter from Grantmakers for Effective Organizations.

"Our current funding strategies reflects the Foundation's values and commitment to place- based grantmaking and to supporting programs that address health equity, thereby reducing health disparities," Andrea wrote. "So one may question why, given all of the pressing health issues and disparities in Georgia, does the Foundation have the audacity to support capacity building?"

The answer, she writes, is simple: "We believe that strengthening nonprofits not only helps us to achieve our mission, but that providing organizations with the tools and resources necessary to build their capacity to better fulfill their missions' leads to stronger organizations, programs, and ultimately, better health outcomes for Georgians."

The foundation's commitment to capacity-building is exemplified through its EmpowerHealth program, a two-year pilot project launched in 2016. Grantees of the program have received support that allowed them to engage in strategic planning, staff and board development, marketing, fundraising development and other internal enhancements.

The program also uses a cohort model that allows for peer learning.

"This creates a learning community for our grantees and gives the Foundation staff an opportunity to be more interactive with our grantees," Andrea wrote. "The most exciting part of this program is seeing the relationships that have been formed or strengthened as a result of participating in the workshops."

Andrea, a 2012 Hull Fellows alumna, tells SECF that she understands why some foundations may not want to devote precious resources to capacity-building -- but she argues it's worth the risk.

"Nonprofit organizations consistently identify capacity building as a top priority for their organization but may not be able to address it due to limited resources and staffing," she said. "However, investing in building stronger nonprofit organizations that are better equipped to accomplish their missions and deliver effective programs ultimately helps the foundation to support its mission. It is advantageous for the foundation, the nonprofit and the community."

Andrea says foundations seeking to develop a capacity-building grant program should take time to research best practices, obtain input from grantees, and talk to other funders investing in capacity building to discuss lessons learned.

"I recommend that funders first assess an organization's readiness to participate in a capacity building program, build trust among grantees, allow for flexibility, develop evaluation outcomes that are realistic and achievable within the timeframe, and incorporate group learning opportunities," she said.

As EmpowerHealth nears the end of its two-year pilot, Andrea says the foundation is taking everything it's learned and plotting next steps.

"I am excited to be able to continue working on efforts to enhance EmpowerHealth into a program that includes effective and sustainable strategies for building a strong and resilient nonprofit sector working to collaboratively enable, improve and advance the health and well-being of all Georgians," she said.

Andrea received her bachelor's degree in biology from Florida A&M University and her master's degree in public health, with a concentration on behavioral science/health education, from Saint Louis University.


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