Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Grassroots Nonprofits’ Organizational Capacity and Mission Fulfillment: A Mixed Methods Assessment of Food Pantries and Soup Kitchens

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 9:10 AM
Johnson II (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Bethany Slater, University at Albany - SUNY
As demand for nonprofit services grows, the sector is challenged to strengthen its capacity to meet these challenges (Millesen, Carman & Bies, 2010; De Vita, Fleming & Twombly, 2001).  Capacity has proven to be a complex construct within the literature.  It is an abstract concept, which is difficult to define because it is multidimensional and contextual. Organizational capacity is thought to influence a nonprofit’s sustainability (Cassidy, Leviton & Hunter 2006; Schuh & Levitan, 2006; McKinsey & Company, 2001), its ability to achieve its mission (Sharpe, 2006; Jones, 2003; Eisinger, 2002; McKinsey & Company, 2001), and overall effectiveness (Bishop, 2007; White et al., 2005; McKinsey & Company, 2001; McPhee & Bare, 2001).  The literature is unclear, however, on how this influence occurs.  This study will contribute to the literature by gaining perspectives on how capacity helps or hinders the ability to meet programmatic goals and mission fulfillment, as defined by the practitioners themselves.  
          Analyzing the capacity of emergency food programs serves as a useful case study due their unique environment, smaller operations and lower capacity.  This study utilizes a capacity assessment questionnaire completed by 195 food pantry and soup kitchens in upstate New York to examine the relationships between organizational characteristics, capacity and program outputs.  It also advances the use of meals served data to systematically evaluate how capacity contributes to mission fulfillment.  Since New York State is the only state to collect information on the number of meals served in emergency food programs, this provides a unique dependent variable to evaluate how capacity influences program outputs.  
           These findings will then be triangulated with 20 in-depth qualitative interviews that explore practitioner perspectives on how capacity helps or hinders mission fulfillment.   All 195 organizations were sorted by their overall capacity score, a summation of their questionnaire results.  Separate groups were stratified into high (top 10%) and low capacity organizations (bottom 10%).  Based on the scores, the high capacity group contains 25 organizations due to several matching scores and the low capacity group contains 20 organizations that are eligible for qualitative interviews.  Purposive sampling will be used to select interviewees within each capacity group in order to maximize diversity between program type, urban versus rural, faith-based versus secular, all volunteer organizations versus those with paid staff and multi-agency organizations versus those that only provide emergency food services.  Findings from the qualitative interviews will be integrated and compared to see how program coordinator perspectives’ are consistent or inconsistent with the findings of the quantitative models.
           This study provides a mixed methods approach to evaluate how capacity contributes to mission fulfillment in small, grassroots nonprofit organizations.  The analysis may answer questions regarding how investing in particular improvements over others can better enable an organization to feed more people.  This approach can then be replicated across missions to other nonprofits. Since the United States social safety net is increasingly reliant on nonprofits to meet growing needs, expanding the empirical base to understand how organizational capacity influences program outcomes can improve service delivery.