Broadening Perspectives:

Capacity Building

            Capacity building is an essential part of the Gifford Foundation’s mission and identity. While grantmaking is a form of capacity building all on its own, money cannot solve all problems – particularly internal ones. Our nonprofit community works tirelessly to serve our community; we see it as our role to help support them in that work. That is why we design programs and give grants to nonprofit organizations across CNY focusing on allowing them to build the skills necessary to plan for the future, make the most out of their resources, and identify their challenge areas.

Sheena Solomon is the Executive Director of the Gifford Foundation.

            Gifford’s ADVANS, POWER, and NTL programs are actively building the capacity of organizations and individuals across CNY.  Part of building capacity means meeting organizations where they are. This allows us the flexibility to view capacity from the organization’s point of few.  In addition, this gives the organization the ability to prioritize, explore and even take time to truly figure out what their needs are. Often times you find that many non-profits, due to a lack of funding and overwhelming need for services, are forced to operate like firefighters – reacting to new problems as they arise.  They run at a frantic pace trying to meet the needs of their clients and rarely have time to stop and reflect or even refill their “gas tank”.  With this in mind Gifford endeavors to focus on the welfare of the entire organization, not just the project or problem they are dealing with at the moment.

            In 2019, using the leadership transition as an opportunity to pause and take a deeper look at who we are as an organization, the Foundation began our own self-assessment. This process is designed to help us better understand our organizational Lifecycles stage and identify areas for improvement, learning, and growth. Over the last 7 months we have reviewed each initiative, reviewed our financials, and we even took a closer look at staffing and board operations.  Pausing to figure out exactly where you are at that given moment (not where you think you might be, or where you’d like to be) is always a vulnerable task. We needed to trust our consultant, be objective, and be honest about our own capacity as an organization. 

            That being said, once you know where you are you are poised to figure out where you want to go. While we’re still in the middle of that process, I am happy to share that the Gifford Foundation board of trustees and the staff are meeting in February to further refine our work and operations. In the meantime, here are a few things we’ve been up to:

  • We’ve added our mission, vision and values to every board meeting agenda, allowing us to refer to our mission and vision as we make decisions.
  • We redesigned our website from the ground up so it could be more welcoming and user friendly. We added more pictures, more facts and more vibrancy.
  • This summer we tried something new and held a clambake to thank the community and our partners for their continued work that they do.
  • We welcomed new board members: Ryan York, Jennifer Sanders, Matt Gardner and Maithreyee Dubé (you can learn more about the new members here) and have said thank you to those who left the board in December of 2019: Cathy Richardson, Mayor Ben Walsh and Gwyn Mannion. The Board of Directors is the foundation of our organization and we truly value our board members’ talents, time and dedication to our mission.
  • We are currently working to make changes to our What If Mini-Grant program; as we move through this process we are consulting local community members and grassroots organizations to assist us in enhancing the program. More details will be available soon!

            Taking time to build and plan is always time well spent, especially when you decide to reflect, review and renew the areas that could be strengthened.  As an organization whose focus is on capacity, it is important for us to know our own capacity and take time to put gas in our own tank. Our dedication to the CNY community means that we take the time to do as the flight attendants remind us to and put on our own mask before helping others, because we know that it strengthens how we can best serve our community. We hope that you feel empowered to take the time to figure out how to best build your own capacity – it’s worth the investment.

Sheena Solomon, Executive Director