Team around a table

The Building Capacity project provides an integrated program of education and technical assistance to build leadership in Vermont’s nonprofits, community boards and committees, and local commissions.  Our efforts focus on an innovative virtual toolbox of leadership and capacity skills organized around learning modules delivered online.  We provide entry-level skills that can be completed alone or combined into larger, more in-depth programs.


About Building Capacity Courses

We offer interactive learning lessons for specific Building Capacity modules, each of which is described in detail below.  The classroom sessions are a safe environment to practice your skills in facilitation, leadership, working in teams, and more. 

"I was pleasantly surprised at how fast the time went because I really felt vested in the workshops ...This is a good curriculum for training all kinds of groups."

Read to get started?  Contact the Building Capacity Project
374 Emerson Falls Rd., Suite 1 | St. Johnsbury, VT 05819

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Board Development

Every day, boards chart the path for our community organizations, yet many board members are ill prepared to make informed decisions, or are unclear of their role and responsibilities as a board member.  Without a strong board, organizations show limited success in meeting both client and community need. Boards are responsible for driving the mission and vision of the organization, and without a strong board of directors, others are expected to not only have the vision for what the organization can become, but also to do all of the work.

Board members need to hold themselves accountable for their performance and provide a foundation for the mission of the organization and a framework of expectations that make it possible for the management, staff, and volunteers to focus upon the day-to-day tasks.  In this session, increase understanding of why board leadership and development is essential to the success of the organization, learn to discern if the correct people are serving on the board, as well as how to maintain an active and participatory board membership.

Charting a Course for Successful Selection, Support & Retention of Effective Board Members

Are you a member a board or steering committee of a non-profit or community organization?  Are you responsible for facilitating the work of a board? Does the board function well? Could it do better? Join Tara Kelly, Executive Director of the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL) and UVM Extension Specialist Mary Peabody for an interactive webinar on practical steps to take to develop and maintain strong board membership. Concepts covered include recruitment, orientation, fostering continued active board participation and the need for ongoing board development. (Recorded March 2, 2011) 
Session Handouts: 12 Principles of an Effective Board (PDF)  | The Board Manual as an Orientation Guide (PDF)  | Board Member Job Description (PDF)


The Life of a Board: Challenges and Solutions

Membership on a board can be a delight, a chore or a nightmare! Are you on a board that struggles to keep members meaningfully engaged? Have the members lost energy? Is fundraising a struggle? Learn what obstacles boards typically face as they work towards sustaining the mission of the organization that they serve. Bring your questions to the meeting and leave with practical ideas to help your board get back on track.  With Stuart Comstock-Gay, President & CEO of the Vermont Community Foundation, and Karen Schneider, a Community and Leadership Development specialist with the University of Vermont Extension. (Recorded June 21, 2011)

Conflict Management

Conflict occurs in any environment where two or more people engage with one another on topics they care about. While most of us do not look forward to conflict, in many instances, conflict can be a path to growth and learning both for the individuals involved and for the organization. Learning to engage and constructively manage conflict is an important skill for anyone working in a group setting.  In this module we address different types of conflict that typically occurs in small organizations and committees along with when and how to intervene. We explore different personality types and learn to recognize how personality type impacts the nature and severity of organizational conflict.

Dealing with Difficult People and Challenging Situations

Got conflict? If you work with people on a regular basis chances are you have witnessed what can happen when conflict is not managed. Most of us, professionals and volunteers alike, spend time with difficult people and navigating challenging topics. But having challenging people in a group doesn't mean the group cannot achieve its purpose. Join Mary Peabody, UVM Extension Community & Economic Development Specialist, to explore the behaviors that set the stage for conflict and some strategies for managing your way through tough situations. (Recorded November 6, 2012)

Developing Volunteers

Recruit the right volunteers for the job and retain their active participation with your organization. These are key elements to the success of non-profits. We’ll look at 11 characteristics of organizations that are highly effective engaging volunteers with their Mission and Vision. Retention of quality volunteers is cost effective, saving both time and dollars. Well cared for volunteers are happy and created a strong campaign for bringing in new volunteers. Baby Boomers are a group deserving special attention; as the largest generation in history they provide a nearly unlimited potential for volunteer service. Learn about how to recruit and retain them within your organization.  Learning objectives for this module include:

  • Learning how a positive vision of the role of volunteers in your organization can enhance involvement of volunteers.
  • Understanding how to involve volunteers at all levels in the organization.
  • Identifying potential barriers to volunteer involvement and ways to deal with these barriers forthrightly.
  • Learning ways to engage paid staff with volunteers to reduce boundaries and increase teamwork.


Combining Inspiring Leadership with Effective Management

Once you have recruited the right volunteers for the job, attention turns to retaining their active participation with your organization.  Retention of quality volunteers is cost effective, saving both time and dollars associated with recruitment and training.  We’ll discuss how leaders at all levels – policy making, executive and middle-management – of the organization can work in together to encourage and facilitate high impact volunteer involvement.  Do you have a clear focal point of leadership for volunteering?  Is the volunteer management function, well-integrated at all levels and in all parts of the organization?  We talk about barriers to volunteer involvement – liability, confidentiality, location of the organization, hours of operation, etc. – and how they can be dealt with forthrightly.  Join Andrea Houlihan, Volunteer Connection Program Coordinator with United Way of Chittenden County Volunteer Center, to explore how nonprofit organizational leadership can develop strong volunteers through leadership that is inspiring and effective at management as well. (Recorded March 15, 2011) 
Session Handout: Combining Inspiring Leadership with Effective Management (PDF)


Laying the Foundation through Mission and Vision

Step one in developing volunteers for your organization is to recruit the right volunteers for the job. Does your organization refer to Mission and Vision documents to lay the foundation for your recruitment practices? Framed in terms of the problem or issue that the organization is addressing, these documents provide a clear articulate picture of the priorities and direction the organization is moving. Volunteers need to see their work as valuable, contributing to the achievement of the mission, with the support of existing staff. Join UVM Extension's State 4-H Program Director Sarah Kleinman, to discuss how to build an environment of openness to new ideas, new challenges and change, while creating opportunities to learn from and about the volunteers’ experiences with the organization. (Recorded June 7, 2011)
Presentation Slides: Lay the Foundation Through Mission and Vision (PDF)


Building Understanding and Collaboration with Paid Staff and Volunteers

Retaining active participation of volunteers with your organization is a big job. Are you showing respect for paid staff by empowering them to engage fully - planning, decision-making and management - with the volunteers? UVM Extension's State 4-H Program Director Sarah Kleinman discusses how to reduce boundaries and increase teamwork between paid and volunteer staff. Recognizing their contribution to achievement of the Mission and Vision is crucial to retaining quality volunteers. (Recorded December 3, 2013)

Ethical Leadership

Ethics guide how we live our lives each day, but we may be hard pressed to define that they are and how they differ from values, norms, and morals. And why are they so important?  What exactly is ethical leadership? Is there more than one kind? Why is identifying an ethical standard so hard and on what do we base them as individuals, as a member of an organization or of society? This module will seek to answer these questions and offer opportunities for participants to explore their own ethics, review case studies, and discuss several frameworks for ethical decision making and actions.

Leading Through Change

Whether you look at change as initiating top-down transformation (Kotter’s Leading Change, 1996) or as drawing out bottom-up ideas and energies (Beer, Eisenstat, and Spector’s observations, 1990), do you have the skills to lead through the change? Leaders need a skill-set that helps them lead their organization in this complex world. They might initiate a kind of disturbance, change in the status quo, initiating the needed change to move the organization toward their desired outcomes. When the status quo is disturbed, the organization grows fertile for developing new creative ideas.


Begin by Sculpting the Learning Organization

By most estimates, really successful organizational changes occur less than 20 percent of the time. More often the experience can be described this way, we fail, find someone or something to blame, and start all over again. Much has been written about leadership strategies to guide organizations through change intended to achieve results through modification of other people's behaviors or routines. Organizations realize that they will not survive if they do not change. Several forces are causing organizations to face this reality including the changing nature of work, changes in the workforce and changes in how people learn. Watkins and Marsick (1993) in their book Sculpting the Learning Organization: Lessons in the Art and Science of Systematic Change gives form and structure to the concept that Senge (1990) identified as the learning organization. "The learning organization is one that learns continuously and transforms itself. Learning takes place in individuals, teams and the organization, and even the communities with which the organization interacts. Learning results in changes in knowledge, beliefs, and behaviors. It also enhances organizational capacity for innovation and growth." In this webinar with UVM Extension Community and Leadership Development Specialist Ellen Rowe, we lay out the six action imperatives described by Watkins and Marsick (1992) for creation of a learning organization. (Recorded December 6, 2011)
Presentation Slides: Leading Through Change (PDF)


Supporting the Change Journey

Change is ever present and ever accelerating. It places demands on organizations and subunits within organizations that require significant departures from people's current routines and behaviors. The success of a change initiative depends upon the support of those affected. Not all those affected may see the change as something positive. Garnering their support is a challenge. How do you bring along those that shy from change and much prefer the status quo? How do you support the change journey in your organization or nonprofit? In this webinar with UVM Extension Community and Leadership Development Specialist Ellen Rowe, we take a practical approach with some tools that will help you bring focus to the change initiative and support the change journey. (Recorded April 2, 2011)


Navigating Vermont's New Health Care Coverage

In October 2013, Vermont's new Health Insurance Marketplace will open to the public. The Marketplace is where individuals will be able to compare health care insurance options to find the best coverage for themselves, their families and their small business employees. What is the marketplace? Where is it located? How do you use it to enroll for health insurance coverage? What does it all mean for individuals, families and small businesses across Vermont? Join Karen E. Geraghty, UVM Extension Outreach Professional for the Rural Community Development Initiative in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, to answer these and other questions and will provide resources to help you understand and navigate the choices you will have for Vermont's new system of health care insurance coverage. (Recorded October 1, 2013)

Quality Service

Successful independent sector organizations of all sizes can learn some valuable lessons from our for-profit counterparts. Even committees can work to improve their service to their “customers”. While it is fine to be mission-centered your organization would also do well to spend some time considering what type of impression you are making on your customers and colleagues. What is your organizational commitment to providing quality service? How do you know when you are successful? In this module we explore what quality service looks like in small nonprofits, informal organizations, and committees. We’ll look at issues such as communication protocols in an electronic world, cross-training, and the importance of verbal and nonverbal messaging.  We’ll conclude with the importance of the feedback mechanism and why it is important to ask your clients and customers how you are doing.

Staff Development & Evaluation

Recruiting, hiring, training and evaluating employees is one of the most rewarding opportunities that Directors have the opportunity to do. Do it well and your organization will grow and flourish. Do it improperly and you will waste valuable resources on conflict management, disciplinary measures, and even litigation.  The good news is that it is possible to practice good staff development and evaluation even without a human resources department. In this module we will explore the basic steps in drafting an organizational plan for overall staffing needs. From there we guide you through developing a job description. Then it is on to recruiting, interviewing and hiring the person that will be the best fit for your organization. Once the employee is in place adequate orientation and training are critical to get the employee off to the best start. Finally we will close the module on critical components of evaluation. This module is appropriate for board members, executive directors and any organizational members that play a role in the hiring, training and evaluation of employees.


Now I Get It! Getting More from Staff Training

Small, mission-centered organizations are facing tough times. Often staff training and development are activities we cannot afford to prioritize, but yet we cannot afford to ignore them. Most often, on-the-job training is the only type of training we have the time or resources to offer; how do we manage it successfully and ensure that it is effective?  Experiential learning works! Adults learn best when what we focus on is relevant, practical, useful, and actionable. Join Kat Morgan, Assistant Director of Education & Training, Hostelling International USA, to explore a model developed by David Kolb which identifies an experiential learning cycle with four discrete learning styles. Research documents that if learners are trained using more than one style, their retention of new skills and knowledge improves. If all four styles are used, retention dramatically increases. (Recorded February 1, 2011)
Presentation Slides: Now I Get It! (PDF)


Hiring, Managing and Terminating Employees and Volunteers: Basic Legal Issues

Wish you knew more about the duties and responsibilities of human resource management? Responsible for hiring decisions? Want to better understand how to manage human resource risks for your nonprofit organization? Join Marne Coit, co-founder and managing member of Greenfield Research & Consulting LLC, and Mary Peabody, UVM Extension for a conversation about the basic legal issues related to hiring, managing, and terminating employees and volunteers. (Recorded April 5, 2011)

Strategic Planning

Groups and organizations that want to be sustainable need to address strategic planning at some level. Yet it is often a process that people avoid, participate in reluctantly, and ‘put on the shelf’ after it is completed. This module will help participants gain an understanding of strategic planning, identify the benefits of strategic planning, and determine the best time to implement the process. Different approaches to planning, choosing the best model for a group, understanding common terms,  learning about skills that will help the process will also be covered. The steps of conducting strategic planning, and the associated components, will round out the topics for this session.

Strategic Planning and its Importance in the Nonprofit Sector

Ever wonder why organizations bother with strategic planning? Have you worked in organizations where the plan sits on a shelf and collects dust? Or you recycle the same plan every three years? Join this webinar and find out how to plan for and implement a strategic planning process that will engage staff and board and become a vital living document in your organization. With Dr. Jane Van Buren, Executive Director of Women Helping Battered Women, and adjunct faculty member in UVM's MPA program.  (Recorded September 11, 2012)

Team Leadership

Team Leadership Flow ChartThe team leadership model presented in this module is based on a long history of research and study dating back to the early 1920’s and developing to the current focus of placing leadership at the core of effective team performance.  Tasks for the leader include: analysis of the internal (organizational context) and external (environmental context) situation; making decisions on whether and how to intervene to improve the team functioning; and  using  appropriate behaviors to move the team toward effective team-based problem solving.  Lessons learned are practical in designing as well as maintaining effective teams.  What are some of the characteristics of a Team functioning at the highest level of excellence? 

  • Clear, elevating goal: Team goals need to be very clear so that one can tell if the performance objective has been realized.  The goal needs to be involving or motivating so that the members believer it to be worthwhile and important.
  • Results-driven structure: Teams need to find the best structure to accomplish their goals. All teams need to have clear roles for group members, a good communication system, methods to diagnose individual performance, and an emphasis on fact-based judgments.
  • Competent team members: Groups should be composed of the right number and mix of members to accomplish all the tasks of the group.  Members need to be provided with sufficient information, education, and training to become or to remain competent members.
  • Unified commitment: Teams do not just happen; they need to be carefully designed and developed.
  • Collaborative climate: Trust based on honesty, openness, consistency, and respect seems to be essential for building a collaborative climate in which members can stay problem focused, be open with one another, listen to each other, feel free to take risks, and be willing to compensate for each other.
  • Standards of excellence: Effective group norms are very important for group functioning. The standards need to be clear and concrete and all team members need to be required to perform to standard.
  • External support: High functioning teams meet money, equipment, or supplies to accomplish the goals. Reward the work on difficult team assignments in terms of raises or bonuses for that performance.
  • Principled leadership: Effective team leadership is a central driver of team effectiveness influencing the team through four sets of processes: cognitive (understand the problems confronting the team); motivational (helps the team become cohesive and capable by setting high performance standards and helping the group to achieve them); affective (handle stressful circumstances by providing clear goals, assignments, and strategies); and coordination (matching members’ skills to roles, providing clear performance strategies, monitoring feedback, and adapting to environmental changes).

External Resources

Working in Teams

The concept of team can be defined as a participatory process allowing individual work colleagues/peers to form a work group whose character is the accomplishment of a specific task (ex. Fundraising campaign, community event).  There are essential roles that a team member must perform and adoption of these behavioral roles may take time.  Much of our previous experience and training may have focused on competition and individual accomplishment.  In a team situation each member must be interdependent; every member needs the other members’ expertise, experience, and energy to achieve the mutual goals.  Effective teams exhibit good listening skills, open communication, mutual trust and confidence, mutual support, involvement/participation, flexibility, awareness of resources/skills that others bring to the effort, and clear objectives/purposes.  Development of these skills is the focus of the module.

Creating Capacity - One Meeting at a Time

Have you ever been in a meeting role where you found yourself wishing you knew more about meeting process and structure? Have you wondered what happened to make this meeting really [wonderful] [awful] [dull] [productive]? As a team member or chair, we are expected to produce results in collaboration with others, but it's not easy, and these facilitation skills are not routinely learned or practiced.  This session will look at three key areas to help any meeting: contracting, working agreements and the group's development. Experience with community groups leave us with numerous aha! Moments and many of these moments are intimately tied to what we know or don't know about the group. For example:

  • what does the group want to accomplish and what & who makes the group work (contracting)?

  • how does the group interact in meetings (working agreements)?

  • how long it has the group been meeting (development)?

Join presenter Jane Haskell, Professor with University of Maine Cooperative Extension to discover facilitation insights on building capacity in our communities with the use of the foundational facilitator competencies developed by the International Association of Facilitators. (Recorded January 7, 2014)
Session Handouts (all pdf): Presentation Slides  |  Opening Ideas  |  Closing Ideas  |  Group Assessment Questions  |  Group Development  |  When to Use an Outside Facilitator  |  Working Agreements Defined


Meeting Basics: Building Skills for Better Meetings

We spend a lot of time in meetings. This module discusses how to run them efficiently: making sure the right people are there, selecting the proper space, preparing and sticking to an agenda, insuring the outcomes are relevant, and ending on time. Document referenced in the video: Basic Facilitation Primer (published by the International Association of Facilitators)


Core Principles for Engaging Young People in Community Change

Your organization or community group wants to involve young people in your work. You've had a few youth participate over the years but have never had any great success at fully including them or keeping their interest. Should you keep making an effort to get youth engaged? Does their participation really matter? The answer is a very emphatic "YES!" Join presenter Lauren Traister, Teen & Leadership Program Coordinator for UVM Extension's 4-H Program, who discusses why youth engagement is critical to communities, what barriers exist to youth engagement and how to overcome them, and how youth-adult partnerships are the most central aspect of authentic youth engagement. (Recorded January 8, 2013)


Gathering the Stakeholders: The Process of Community Engagement

An idea is generated, a vision is captured, and someone somewhere is ready to launch a plan. Immediately it becomes clear that the plan is missing key ingredients: the support and ideas of the community will it impact. (it will impact?) This scenario is not uncommon in our local communities and usually describes a plan that will fail. Successful leadership understands the value of engaging the community in developing ideas, making decisions, and implementing plans. Presenter Martha Walker, Ph.D., Community Viability Specialist with Virginia Cooperative Extension, will lead us in discussing why engagement is needed, who makes it happen, and the process that sets the stage for a successful dialogue. (Recorded December 4, 2012)
Session Handout: Community Engagement (PDF)

Gantt Charts