Is your organization being hindered by capacity gaps?

Over time, many organizations develop behaviors that are neither typical nor healthy, but have simply become accepted as the way things are done. These behaviors can indicate organizational capacity gaps that could be preventing you from effectively achieving the outcomes of your mission.

The five steps below will help you identify and address any capacity gaps within your organization.

  1. Understand what a capacity gap is. A capacity gap can be defined as any significant disparity between the goals and objectives stated in your organization’s mission and vision, and your actual or potential ability to achieve your vision and mission. Because every organization is unique, there are countless potential capacity gaps. Capacity gaps can occur in one or multiple areas within your organization, including your philosophies, board, leadership, employees, financial management, cross-functional cooperation, fundraising, program effectiveness, and information technology.

  2. Understand why it’s important to address these gaps. The hard truth is that an organization with capacity gaps has weaknesses in key areas, and this is likely to prevent it from achieving its vision and mission. And over time, staff and volunteers develop “workarounds” — behaviors designed to achieve their goals despite organizational shortfalls.

  3. Examine organizational behaviors. The best way to pinpoint any organizational capacity gaps is to look for behaviors that seem abnormal or that are not typically seen in healthy organization. These are behaviors that would appear strange to an objective, outside observer. Here are a few examples:

Behavior: A board that is deeply involved in making operational decisions even though the management team is qualified and engaged

Potential capacity gap: A board that needs more training, experience, or clarification to understand its role

Behavior: Excessive employee turnover or shifting of under-performing staff from job to job without addressing the underlying performance issue

Potential capacity gap: An ineffective hiring process, employee training, or leadership development program; or a philosophical, organizational cultural bias

Behavior: Leadership that is detached from the rest of the organization, or an organizational structure with unclear lines of communication

Potential capacity gap: Poor leadership communication

To identify these behaviors, solicit input and feedback from across all departments. Take the time to talk with employees and volunteers to understand their processes, identify any workarounds they’ve created, and get their suggestions for changes and improvements.

You may also want to use an objective third party. It’s often easier for a third party to identify any unusual behaviors and to ask potentially sensitive questions about the conditions that led to those behaviors. For example, CapinCrouse has developed a methodology for identifying, understanding, and addressing such behaviors and organizational capacity gaps.

  1. Address the gaps. Once you’ve identified areas of concern, it’s important to commit to finding and implementing a solution to address them. Be sure to get feedback and buy-in from all involved. Otherwise, you risk people returning to the familiar workarounds and previous unhealthy behaviors.

  2. Repeat the process periodically. New capacity gaps can develop over time. It’s important to review your organizational philosophies, processes, and behaviors periodically to discover and address any new areas of concern. Every corrective change typically creates a new challenge to be resolved. This is normal and to be expected.

Organizations that wait too long to address their capacity gaps are unlikely to achieve their stated vision and mission. In time, they may even find themselves facing irrelevance. Taking a proactive approach to identify and address any capacity gaps will enable your organization to work more effectively toward reaching your goals.

Stan Reiff serves as partner and National Director of Church and Denominational Services at CapinCrouse LLP, a national CPA and advisory services firm devoted to serving not-for-profit organizations. His professional experience includes over 30 years in ministry operations, public accounting, government accounting, and missions.