Capacity Building Workshops Takeaway Summary

During the Institute for Emerging Issues’ ReCONNECT for the Future Forum in February 2021, participatory and interactive capacity building workshops were convened to address a variety of topics and support the urgent and future needs of nonprofit organizations, local governments, and cross-sector community collaborations. These sessions connected stakeholders, decision-makers, and change agents from the civic and nonprofit sectors, faith communities, government, and business community.  Reflecting the diversity of North Carolina, these sessions oriented and equipped participants to creatively tackle the present and courageously engage the future. Building off the ReCONNECT NC themes and lessons learned, these sessions were educational, practical, and inspiring, catalyzing action.


This report is an effort to summarize and share the lessons learned and reflections from our various discussions as well as recommended resources for further exploration.  We are distributing this document to everyone who registered for the ReCONNECT for the Future Forum, whether or not they attended the capacity building sessions.  The workshop sessions themselves were not recorded so folks would feel free and comfortable saying what they needed to say.  That said, we are not attributing quotes to particular individuals in this document.  


To stay in communication with this work, or if you have questions, feedback, and ideas, please contact: John Dempsey Parker, IEI senior fellow at

Strategic Leadership, Bridge Building, and Stronger Communities

During the session on bridge building and strategic leadership for stronger communities, the following were lessons learned, key takeaways, and reflections shared by our co-facilitators or by participating attendees:

  • Successful work in communities requires crossing boundaries and social divisions – social, political, geographical, as well as across race, income, and power. 
  • The system isn’t broken, it is working exactly the way it was designed to work.
  • Make sure you’re paying attention to power dynamics in partnerships.  
  • Go beyond skill-sets and comfort zones. 
  • Use an asset mindset
  • Build on community assets. Then figure out what you can do in your workspace to figure out how to make the change and impact, there are a variety of ways to do this. 
  • Showing up and being present
  • The importance of cultural humility
  • Listening as a key and foundational skill
  • Bridge-building is more important than being liked
  • Conflict is inevitable. Be the one brave enough to lean into conflict
  • Collaborating in comfort isn’t getting the job done
  • Stretch to build uncommon, surprising, and equitable collaborations
  • People need opportunities to improve and be better
  • Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good
  • Partnerships and progress happen at the speed of trust.  Build trust.  Be trustworthy.  Trust is a two-way street.
  • Bridge-building means being an insider-outsider
  • “Site work” is necessary before building the bridge
  • Patience.  Patience.  Patience.
  • Appreciation – Don’t underestimate the power of appreciation and gratitude. Be the person that remembers why the work is important, however don’t overdo it and be “toxic positive” 
  • Be an advocate – use your power and privilege
  • Strive to understand the community – especially history and contexts
  • Be clear of your vision, mission, roles, and constituencies
  • Community data and statistics are good for a starting place, but never a place to end
  • Ask what matters most, what needs are present, and what might be missing from the data and stories
  • Relationships are key to collective action
  • Determine to stay for the long-haul

During our time together, participants were asked to reflect on their own community.  What are the bridge-building issues that you might be dealing with, or you may want to deal with, or you may have messed up on?  It’s a journey.  Additional reflection questions included:  

  • What are the broken bridges or where are there spaces where bridges would be helpful/essential in your community?   
  • Why might a bridge have never been created?  
  • Where do you wish there were bridges?  
  • What are the reasons the bridges are broken?

Leveraging Our Assets and Community Investments

The themes around bridge-building leadership were also echoed in the workshop on leveraging our assets.  The facilitated discussion encouraged an asset based approach to leadership and community building by inventorying and organizing around the individual gifts, skills, and strengths of the people involved as well as institutional and community assets.  There are a variety of resources shared at the end of this document that point us to more asset oriented and community focused approaches to leadership, philanthropy, investments, and positive community change efforts.

Lessons Learned, Key Takeaways, and Reflections by co-facilitators or participating attendees: 

Key Question: How do we define community assets?

  • Considering all of the assets in a community is a strength-based approach to community building.
  • The focus is on the strengths, the existing resources of a community, not the needs or the gaps.
  • It is about building upon the presence of community resources, rather than the absence.
  • People are the assets of a community – which can mean skills, talents, financial resources, ideas, knowledge, experience, perspective, and leadership.
  • Community assets can also be land, natural resources, agriculture, educational institutions, churches, vacant spaces.  
  • Community assets can include any number of resources within a community that can be tapped into as a means of addressing the needs of that community. By enhancing, strengthening or further developing what is already present and accessible, we can identify opportunities for investment.

Key Question: How do we leverage assets into investments?

  • Develop relationships that allow us to learn from one another what we can each contribute – the assets we each bring to improve communities.
  • Engage in opportunities to share the strengths of your communities. Your knowledge of your own community is itself an asset to those who want to learn and support development.
  • Share with one another. When an idea for asset-based community development or community investment emerges, share with others who may partner or may benefit.
  • Share successes and lessons learned.

Creating Equity Through Community-Rooted Practices 

In the workshop on community-rooted practices for creating equity, we explored practices for engaging and partnering with organizations in order to be accountable to impacted community members.  The discussion leveraged the article, Community-Rooted Organizations: Enhanced Accountability and Capacity Building for Community Development and the experiences of the Durham-based organization, Communities In Partnership.

Lessons Learned, Key Takeaways, and Reflections by co-facilitators or participating attendees: 

  • Partnerships between large organizations or institutions and community organizations can be effective tools for creating lasting social change and promoting racial equity. 
  • Partnerships must be created with careful attention to power structures and accountability. 
  • There is lots of knowledge in every community – focus on unearthing it
  • “Democratization of data” – in working in marginalized communities, understand that they may feel “studied to death” and have poor experiences with outside researchers coming in, taking what they need, and then disappearing.  Instead, those working with communities should give the community ownership of their own data (intellectual property rights), explain what is needed and why and engage members of the community in collecting it.
  • Community members should be compensated for their efforts
  • The data should be shared back with the community in a variety of ways – this helps build trust and learning
  • Collection methods should be appropriate for the community (e.g., don’t use email surveys if most people don’t have a computer or internet access)
  • Be careful about the scale of the data you need and carefully collect what you need.
  • Beware of misleading data.  For example, time-series Census tract data on income may look like it measures changes in “neighborhood” income over time but may simply reflect the movement of people in and out of the neighborhood and not capture the true change in incomes of the residents you want to study.  Plus, income increases may be due to population displacement of the original, poorer  residents
  • Ladder of citizen participation (created in the 1960s) shows the gradations of programs and how they may, or may not, engage the local community in the work.  The scale ranges from “manipulation” on one end to “citizen control” on the other where citizens drive the decision-making and agenda.  See the resources list for the ladder and other related topics.
  • Those who have power are responsible for shifting it to those who do not
  • Those with power should transfer resources and capacity building to those impacted most directly by what is being studied

Strategic Partnerships with Government and the Public Sector

Lessons Learned, Key Takeaways, and Reflections by co-facilitators or participating attendees:

  • Governments are expected to do more with less and the need to engage in strategic partnerships to increase capacity is essential for government organizations. 
  • Our governments, particularly local governments, are facing immediate human capital concerns. Across the state, 70% of local government leaders are eligible to retire and the number of students enrolling in public affairs programs has stagnated. 
  • Strategic partnerships can help organizations with burden-sharing, navigate complex “wicked problems”, and decrease cognitive biases to ensure diverse perspectives are included. 
  • Organizations may benefit from elevating their internal capacity to prioritize partnerships that are “scalable, sustainable, and develop public, open-source resources”.  (NC Office of Strategic Partnerships)
  • Consider the connection between strategic partnerships and capacity building
    • Input from partners helps government units provide services more effectively and efficiently, and vice versa. 
  • Evaluate how internal processes and organizational culture can hinder or promote strategic partnerships. 
    • Consider partnerships connected by the need to better inform the public of what our governments do and how that impacts people’s day-to-day lives.
    • As governments partner with organizations that share common visions for communities, we build bridges to show folks how they can play a role as a resident or even as an employee.
  • Pursue partnerships that are sustainable, scalable, and focused
    • Start with the problem and then identify all relevant stakeholders
    • Seek out input from stakeholders and ensure alignment around the problem – the problem then becomes the vision that organizations coalesce around 
    • Seek out small “wins” – each win should address the problem identified 
    • Consider marketing and communicating each success – let it point to the narrative that aligns with the vision adopted by partners and stakeholders
  • We have learned that we have to have reasonable expectations and understand that partnerships take a lot of time. Also, we can’t change mindsets of certain departments in government if they aren’t somewhat open to partnering with the community. 
  • Partnering with culturally competent and connected organizations can help you reach different demographics.   
  • Every town has nonprofits/NGOs or faith communities that hold sway in the community.  These are community assets the government can leverage. Residents are the community’s greatest assets. Determine the role residents play in thinking about strategic partnerships
  • Resident feedback can help set priorities and keep partnerships in line with community goals
  • Residents are part of organizations that make strategic partners -employees of companies, employees and volunteers at nonprofits, congregants of religious institutions, members of social clubs or civic organizations, etc. 
  • Residents don’t know about or see the whole network of government jurisdictions and community organizations the way people who are part of that network do. The better our partnerships, the better our services will be when we can count on quality referrals and relationships between organizations.

Entrepreneurship and Creativity

Lessons Learned, Key Takeaways, and Reflections by co-facilitators and participating attendees:

  • Create a space for growth and development across sectors and geography. 
  • Create a space to grow together and leverage across regions’ unique perspectives.  There are opportunities to create leadership for entrepreneurship and creativity, and also policy change. 
  • How can we support entrepreneurs to not only start businesses, but also grow businesses and grow the local economy.  How do we better support the small business network, and grow that base?
  • Advocacy – ask entrepreneurs what they need. Listen to people who have the needs – those on the ground doing the work. 
  • Regarding good policy and culture – support, the ability for all to take risks. 
  • Knowledge and ability to start a business, know where and how to access the resources. 
  • An equitable level playing field is needed with less red tape. 
  • Policy needs to meet people where they are. 
  • Many marginalized folks struggle to find themselves in the language and the discussion. Coaching is needed. 
  • Others held a vision for many of us before we held it for ourselves. 
  • Most of us carry a belief that we only get one shot. Curious about what spaces are available to dream and grow and fail and openly own that, or to openly say “I’m scared”. 
  • The full humanity of who we are should be able to show up. 
  • It’s been refreshing to hear about a focus on truly small businesses and nonprofits as economic development.  As economic developers, we need to reinvent ourselves and admit we have a problem. 
  • The things we’re talking about are life-affirming for individuals and families, and also for our communities and our regions. 
  • Capacity building – how do we scale this stuff. We could “up” the scale and “up” the achievement. Tremendous possibilities in the ideas of partnerships
  • I know a lot of people that would want to be and should be in these spaces [in the discussion]. How do I get this information back to people back where I am? This [good, deep, real discussion and strategizing] is exactly what needs to be happening in so many areas. 
  • Partner with others.  Listen first to all people in order to start.  
  • Till that soil, find the commonality, learn about other people, and be able to accept their ideas. We will not have break-ups because we think differently. 
  • Interlocking issues are key for local economies – stable and affordable housing, transportation, infrastructure, broadband, etc.
  • Broadband: reliable and high-speed broadband is a policy solution that is well beyond its time.
  • We should be thinking regionally so we are creating opportunities across our urban and rural environments because they are interconnected. 
  • How can we seed and advocate for policy that creates equity and sustainability?

Regional Resilience and Innovation 

Key Takeaways and Reflections:

  • Psychologists define “resilience” as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.”  Using this definition as a foundation, Community “Resilience” or “Resiliency” includes the ability of a group of individuals to recover or bounce back (or bounce forward) from one or more crises to return to the sense of “normalcy” that they experienced before the catastrophic event.  
  • In a community context, a catastrophic event includes such things as a natural disaster (floods, fires, hurricanes, earthquakes), a financial disaster (recessions, depressions, closings of major employers), or public health disaster (drug addiction, mental health crises, COVID-19, AIDS).  
  • In addition, chronic stressors related to poverty, racism (and other isms), and domestic, workplace, and environmental harassment or violence can also lead individuals and communities to the same sense of hopelessness and loss of balance that sudden events emote.
  • Not surprisingly, the same tools that build resilience at an individual level can make a community stronger as well.  By focusing on building connections, supporting individual citizen wellness, setting community-led goals that nurture individual aspirations, and planning for change, communities can re-emerge from tragedy stronger and more connected, thus strengthening their resilience to the next crisis that will surely come.
  • Four Tools for Resilience:  
    • Build connections – especially in the “third” spaces, public spaces, the commons
    • Support individual wellness – natural spaces, wellness in the workplace
    • Encourage and lead a community engagement process and develop community led goals
    • Build regional and public-private coalitions for community connectivity 
  • Resilient communities depend on a resilient region – in my view this includes diversity in economic sectors, housing options, broadband access, and community assets
  • Map and connect community and regional assets
  • Supporting individual citizen wellness including natural attractions, etc., improved walkability, access to fresh local food (farmers markets, CSAs), workplace wellness, childcare & eldercare support, and mental health resources
  • Diversity and diversification are key to resilience – embracing the full diversity of human talent to a grow more diverse society and economy
  • Diverse stakeholder voices must be included in community and regional planning
  • Regional Council of Governments are connectors and hard-wired to focus on regional scale projects.
  • Local disasters can have regional impact – ie: rock slide blocking an interstate (and therefore disrupting transportation and supply chain delivery)
  • Disaster preparedness and planning should occur on a regional level
  • Don’t allow unfortunate circumstances and situations to hinder what’s possible. 
  • Don’t allow bad experiences to determine who a person can be. 
  • Resiliency is not needing the ability to bounce back
  • Practice situational awareness – notice what’s around you and making it work 
  • Our places, our economies, have changed. We need to update our stories
  • We need local government to go out and not ask marginalized communities come in
  • Resiliency is needing processes that adapt to reality
  • When we keep showing up, we prove to people that we’re in it for the long haul, and that there is hope
  • We need to take care of ourselves in order to provide space for other people
  • Technology is adapting and expanding what is possible now too.  How can we use it to expand these conversations in the future, not just because of the pandemic?
  • COVID-19 presents the challenge to sedentary generation to once again embrace the entrepreneurial spirit
  • Government alone – local, state, or federal – cannot be responsible for the implementation of resiliency strategies.
  • Resilience has been the standard for people of color in this country
  • Resilience means admitting that the old way of thinking and doing does not work, is not accessible, and is no longer on the table to be engaged.
  • Resiliency creates opportunity to rebound and how we don’t want people to end up weaker and poorer after disaster. How do you prepare for how that doesn’t happen? 
  • “Fix the roof while the sun is shining”
  • Capacity to reach specific people in specific communities is key.  It shouldn’t be “first come, first serve” for resources.  Let’s be thoughtful about who’s hurting and who needs to be engaged and support them to help themselves move forward.
  • What can we learn from the past year on how to better prepare to take advantage of the next “opportunity” – e.g., how to better reach those most affected by the “opportunity”?
  • People on the ground want positive action instead of stories
  • Operating in silos has to stop.  There must be cross-pollination and coordination among government agencies, as well as nonprofits, the business sector, and individuals
  • Questions to contemplate:
    • Are we diverse? In jobs, training, sectors, cultures. 
    • Are we equitable?  In housing, transportation, infrastructure?
    • Are we connected?  Across communities, counties, differences.
    • Are we creating?  New partnerships, embracing ideas, willing to bend.
  • We have an opportunity to think broader.  To bridge boundaries to diversify and build equitable, resilient regions.
  • Change agents that desire to support the most impacted and most vulnerable can have lasting impact by serving as a witness, convener, coach, facilitator, connector, documenter, and consensus-builder.  Consider systemic changes, not just individual issues.

Strong Infrastructure in Nonprofit Organizations Crucial to COVID Response

Lessons learned, Key Takeaways, and Reflections:

  • The nonprofit sector should be seen as a job creator and be part of economic development discussions
  • Within the context of disasters, nonprofit organizations are the “second responders”
  • Greater investment is needed in the nonprofit sector
  • Trust-based philanthropy: Nonprofits need to be brought to the table for funding decisions, the more funders can trust us and our perception, the more this will work. 
  • Collaborating partners with philanthropy – If we’re going to be thought leaders, let’s not just beg for the meal, but plan the menu with the funders. 
  • The disconnect between value and money is so confounding.  The value nonprofits develop somehow doesn’t make it to monetary value.
  • Narrative change & language matters: It’s inappropriate to call nonprofits charities. People are not asking for money for themselves, but for people that are ignored or marginalized. What can be done to strengthen the infrastructure so people can provide the support.
  • How do we better tell the nonprofit sector story about the value we deliver?
  • In many cases, nonprofits are able to reach those most marginalized
  • It’s time to rethink the nonprofit business and service models.  What’s changed and how do you need to change?
  • Boost capacity – strong need for backbone support – accounting, marketing, tech support, data collection.  Can there be a cooperative model or other model to supply these needs in cost effective ways?  Can we tap into higher education institutions for some of this?
  • Encourage local community leaders to join nonprofits boards

Leading Forward: Moving Beyond Where We Are & What’s Needed Now

In the workshop on Leading Forward, we envisioned what’s needed to lead in new ways at this time and in the future.  We imagined and stretched to move beyond our comfort zones to consider what is necessary, creative, and courageous. We wrestled with questions such as “who are our people?” What are the opportunities and challenges? How do we learn and work together, especially across lines of division?  Key takeaways, and reflections included:

  • Policy is great, and …. We had policies to desegregate schools, but it wasn’t until hearts were changed that things changed. 
  • Can we work together?  Am I safe with you?  How do we work out love to get these hard concepts into our bodies and metabolize the lessons?
  • There are some real, new things we need to do.  We need to get out of our heads. There are some myths we need to break free from. We can’t fix fear with reason. We’re going to have to [get to know one another and] share our stories. 
  • Love is the only thing that has ever changed anyone’s mind. Asking “do you care about me?” is a question of love.
  • How do we make it popular to see love as a sign of strength?
  • What does showing up look like if it’s fully embodied. We already know to show up, but what does this look like now?  We need to have an embodied vision of what partnership is in this time. 

Thank you
to our participating capacity-building workshop co-facilitators and friends!

Reach out to them and also explore their affiliated organizations.

  • Sarah Arney, LFNC Fellow, Community Development Planner, City of Kinston
  • Brandy Bynum Dawson, Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy, NC Rural Center 
  • Dawn Baldwin Gibson, Executive Pastor of Peletah Ministries and Superintendent of Peletah Academic Center for Excellence 
  • Becky L. Bowen, JD, Program Manager, Cultivate NC, Community and Rural Development, NC State Extension 
  • Erica Clark-Anderson, AICP, Director Economic & Community Development, Land of Sky Regional Council 
  • Natasha Davis, MPA, Director, Quality Enhancement for Nonprofit Organizations (QENO), Office of Community Engagement & Applied Learning, University of North Carolina at Wilmington 
  • Kathryn Gaasch, Rural Forward NC Partnership Manager, Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation 
  • Tracey Greene-Washington, MSW, President of Indigo Innovation Group and Founder of CoThinkk 
  • Steve Hayes, Executive Director, Guilford Nonprofit Consortium 
  • Merald Holloway, Founder and Executive Director of NC 100 and Partnership Manager, Rural Forward NC (Rockingham County) 
  • Wilson Hooper, North Wilkesboro Town Manager
  • Leslie Ann Jackson, Vice President of Community Investment and Engagement, NC Community Foundation 
  • Kay Jowers, JD, PhD, Senior Policy Associate, Duke University Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions 
  • Armeer Kenchen, Executive Director, Corner Square Community Capital, NC Rural Center 
  • Amy Lytle, Executive Director, HandsOn NWNC 
  • Don Macke, Vice President for e2 Entrepreneurial Ecosystems hosted by NetWork Kansas 
  • Nick Neptune, Entrepreneur and former managing director of Transfer Company Food Hall, Ballroom, and Work Hall 
  • Jenni Owen, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Office of the NC Governor, State Budget and Management 
  • Pamela Palmer, PhD, Strategic Officer for Capacity Building, NC Center for Nonprofits 
  • Kim Pevia, Founder and Principal, KAP Inner Prizes and Life Coach 
  • Dante Pittman, Human Relations Director, City of Wilson
  • Dylan Russell, Executive Director of Lead for North Carolina, UNC School of Government 
  • Mikki Sager, Vice President, Resourceful Communities, The Conservation Fund 
  • Camryn Smith, Founding Member and Executive Director, Communities In Partnership 
  • Danielle Spurlock, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of City and Regional Planning, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 
  • Jeanne Canina Tedrow, President and CEO, NC Center for Nonprofits 
  • Shom Tiwari, LFNC Fellow, Elizabeth City Public Utilities Department and Library Assistant at the Pasquotank County Library
  • Josh Yates, Executive Director of the Ormond Center for Thriving Congregations and Communities at Duke Divinity School 
  • Jen Zuckerman, MS, Director of Strategic Initiatives, World Food Policy Center, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University 

A Sampling of Resources shared by our co-facilitators and participating attendees

* Note that some resources are shared more than once because it seemed appropriate

NCSU Institute for Emerging Issues’ ReConnect series

Community and Civic Engagement 

Get Connected and Stay in Touch:


  • Building Communities From the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets by John Kretzmann and John McKnight
  • Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block
  • The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods by John McKnight and Peter Block
  • Having Nothing, Possessing Everything: Finding Abundant Communities in Unexpected Places by Michael Mather
  • Discovering the Other: Asset-Based Approaches to Building Community Together by Cameron Harder
  • Shift Happens in Community: A Toolkit to Build Power & Ignite Change by Mary K. Snow and Paula F. Swepson
  • Choosing Purposeful Alignment: The Messy Middle of Transformation by Tracey Greene-Washington
  • Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help, And How to Reverse It by Robert Lupton
  • When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

Leadership Resilience Resources (by OnBeing):

Systemic Racism: Racial Justice, Equity, and Healing

Disaster Relief and Recovery


Nonprofit Sector & Philanthropy

Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development

Public and Local Leadership