Capacity Building in Action

How Catchafire supported the UMass Boston Institute for Early Education Leadership & Innovation Scale and Better Understand their Impact

July 18, 2019

By Alexa Rivadeneira, Director of Foundation Accounts, Catchafire and Andrea Madu, Program Associate, Nonprofit Effectiveness

We often hear from our nonprofit partners that operational and management capacity is a key challenge, especially given tight budgets, funding constraints, and a rapidly changing political environment. To address this issue, we provide direct capacity-building support through our Nonprofit Effectiveness Strategy to our grantees and nonprofit partners to strengthen their operational capacity and expertise. 

Catchafire platform
Catchafire platform

One such resource is Catchafire, an online platform that the Boston Foundation has partnered with over the last four years that connects mission driven organizations to capacity-building support. Through the platform, nonprofits have access to more than 10 million skilled professionals and can connect with experts for support on a number of projects such as marketing strategies, website design, strategic planning, and professional development. Over the course of our partnership, 167 grantees have matched on 441 capacity-building projects on the platform. 

In 2018, the Foundation offered access to the platform to current grantees, including the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation (the Leadership Institute) at UMass Boston, an education grantee. 

The Leadership Institute offers training in entrepreneurial leadership to frontline early educators and child care (ECE) business owners serving young children and conducts cutting-edge research on early educator leadership and innovation. Its graduates are catalyzing the local and systemic change necessary to improve the quality of instructional practices and devise business innovations that will ensure that quality ECE programs are available and accessible in low-income communities. To date, they have reached over 5,000 children and their families, with the equivalent of only five full-time staff members. In its day-to-day operations, the Leadership Institute functions as a lean startup organization with team members taking care of everything from program delivery and design to private fundraising and strategic planning.

Through its funding through the Education strategy, the Leadership Institute is expanding its reach in Boston and beyond to support and sustain the entrepreneurial leadership of frontline early educators and child care business owners to lead quality improvement efforts where they work, in their communities, and at the policy level. 

“Our experience with Catchafire expanded our capacity to complete some fairly complicated projects, such as a detailed market analysis, that will help us deliver on our mission, and achieve the outcomes we have set for ourselves and in partnership with TBF,” says Anne Douglass, Executive Director of the Leadership Institute and Associate Professor of Early Care and Education at the University of Massachusetts.

Anne first heard about the Catchafire platform through a TBF webinar nine months ago. Since then, her organization has gone on to work on a total of six projects with Catchafire volunteers including a market analysis, pricing strategy, an infographic design, photography and public speaking coaching projects.

“Overall, our experience has been really positive. What strikes me is the quality of the services and the expertise of the volunteers. I’ve been happy with the service and have been able to find people who really knew what they were doing, engaged consistently, and delivered on the final product.”

Anne’s most memorable and impactful connection on Catchafire was with a certified public speaking coach, who helped her prepare a pitch for potential investors in Silicon Valley. 

She turned to Catchafire for support on her presentation, matching with Brooke, whose experience onstage as a former American Idol contestant, a Sony Record label holder and a performance coach made her the perfect fit to help Anne practice her pitch. Brooke gave Anne a variety of strategies to connect with her audience and provided feedback in real-time.

Though she is a confident public speaker with experience in a variety of settings, Anne’s work with Brooke helped her hone the pitch until it was perfect. 

“She did everything but come up on stage with me!” 

As a result of the pitch, the Leadership Institute received its first signed contract to expand its leadership development program for early educators into a new state. 

“We simply don’t have the funding right now to hire staff that can complete some of the projects that philanthropic and private investors understandably like to see, such as strategic growth plans, and even easily digestible infographics that explain our theory of change,” Anne said. “But working with Catchafire was like adding staff. We gained all this capacity to complete some fairly complicated projects that are helping us scale our work and better understand and demonstrate the impact we’re having on educators and the young children and families they serve.”

By providing this resource to organizations like the Leadership Institute, the Boston Foundation aims to build capacity for Greater Boston nonprofits to better deliver on their missions. If you’re an FY19 Impact Area or Open Door Grants grantee and would like to register for the platform, please email by August 15th. To learn more about the Catchafire platform, visit