Assessing Sustainability: Part 3 – Capacity

In Sustainability by Karen Buck

This post is part of a 4-part series on our Sustainability Self-Assessment tool. Read part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 4 here.

The Sustainability Self-Assessment uses questions developed by Conservation Impact and Nonprofit Impact and used in hundreds of planning and organizational development projects over the past 16 years. It is organized by the components of the Integrated Strategy

Capacity Defined

An organization’s capacity is the human, financial, technological, and organizational resources needed to provide necessary services to meet constituent needs and attain results towards mission; this defines capacity as comprehensive (i.e., more than just funding).

Capacity-Related Characteristics of Sustainability

An organization that is strong, potent, and sustainable:

  • Possesses sufficient capacity to ensure its ability to attain strategic goals and meet constituent needs
  • Understands the core functions that must be carried out to attain strategic goals
  • Appropriately matches staff/ volunteer composition, structure, and skills to the work of the organization
  • Has the systems, structures, etc. needed to support its work
  • Clearly defines role and responsibilities for all staff, volunteers, committees, coalitions, partners, etc.
  • Aligns all components of capacity to promote identity and reach constituents

Assessment Questions – Capacity

  • What are the core functions (groups of activities) necessary to achieve the strategic goals of the organization?
  • How do your systems and structures support your strategies?
  • What does each individual who sits on your committee, advisory group, or coalition bring to the table and why are they there?
  • How are all systems and roles integrated to promote identity and reach core constituents?
  • What staff composition/ structure is most appropriate to support the work of the organization?


Enlist a team of organization leaders to answer the assessment questions individually and compile the answers. Compare the answers to the list of characteristics below and discuss:

  • What do our answers tell us about our capacity?
  • What are our strengths regarding our capacity?
  • What are our biggest gaps/ weaknesses?
  • What are the one or two actions we will take to better enhance or align our capacity, who is responsible for those actions, and what is the deadline?

Go here to read Assessing Sustainability: Part 1 – Identity
Go here to read Assessing Sustainability: Part 2 – Constituents
Go here to read Assessing Sustainability: Part 4 – Impact