By Brett Mayfield


When non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as nonprofits seek to make an impact and achieve goals, they need the organizational capacity to do so. In recent decades, capacity-building has become more and more popular among NGOs worldwide. With such a wide variety of social issues to be tackled and few reliable capacity measures available to NGOs, Shumate et al. developed the Nonprofit Capacity Instrument in 2017. They designed it to guide organizations to measurable success. (An online version of this tool is available.)

While this instrument is the only validated one of its kind, it only provides measures for NGOs found in the United States rather than worldwide. NNSI then asked: 

  • How can this instrument be effectively used in other countries? 
  • How much do cultural differences matter when building NGO capacity? 

To answer these questions, Fu and Shumate compared the outcomes of the instrument in mainland China and the U.S. Fu and Shumate gathered capacity assessments from Chinese and U.S. based NGOs. They matched the samples based on revenue and social issues that the NGOs addressed, so that results were comparable. The researchers had a final sample of 119 Chinese NGOs and 150 U.S. NGOs.

By statistically adapting the existing Nonprofit Capacity Instrument to their comparisons of U.S. and Chinese NGOs, Fu and Shumate developed a revised 7-factor 28-item instrument instead of the previous 8-factor 45-item one. Interestingly, mission orientation capacity was not an identifiable capacity among Chinese NGOs––quite unlike the U.S. 

Also, the study showed that Chinese NGOs had lower adaptive capacity than U.S. NGOs. The researchers also realized that even though both countries had very similar capacity scores, none of those similarities were related to organizational revenue or social mission. Their discoveries illustrated the importance of developing and using a common instrument for comparative capacity research. By doing so, Fu and Shumate’s research suggested that global funders eliminate their bias that Chinese NGOs have lower capacity overall than U.S. counterparts. Rather, they should focus on building the Chinese NGOs’ adaptive capacities.

With this study, Fu and Shumate discovered the influence of institutional factors on NGO capacities. The research overall emphasizes the importance of understanding cultural context when comparing and measuring capacity. However, though these findings are vital to capacity research, this work is not finished. There is a lot of work to be done to understand NGO capacities in different contexts. With more related studies, scholars like those at NNSI could guide public managers’ and policymakers’ strategies to achieve their goals––and make a meaningful social impact.


Full article:

Fu, J. S., & Shumate, M. (2020). Developing and validating a capacity instrument for Chinese and U.S. NGOs. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 49(3), 631–652.