Nonprofit Capacity
Training Program


To support revitalization efforts in Detroit by supplementing professional development costs of key Detroit-based nonprofit organizations for high-quality staff training. The hope of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan is that the skills learned in these training sessions can be directly applied to the current work of individuals at their organizations as they seek to make Detroit a strong community.

Post-bankruptcy Detroit presents a unique opportunity to invest in the momentum of change and to double-down on the large investment made by Knight Foundation, the Community Foundation and a host of others in the “Grand Bargain.” Skilled civic leadership is integral to bringing about a more vibrant future for Detroit. This is a unique opportunity to support on-the-ground efforts in Detroit by investing in talent at organizations that are engaged in strengthening the city.

This effort is focused on the existing talent in Detroit’s nonprofit sector and reinforcing their ability to accelerate the transition taking place in Detroit. This is timely and pivotal for Detroit as it begins to reinvest in and rebuild its civic infrastructure.



In 2014, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and Knight Foundation piloted the Nonprofit Capacity Training Program to support education, training and conference attendance for key staff with hands-on responsibility for Detroit revitalization efforts. The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan administered and managed the program.

Results and feedback were fantastic. More than $600,000 was invested to support the training of more than 164 individual leaders from 26 Detroit nonprofits working on economic growth and development, placemaking and neighborhood revitalization. The various training sessions they chose were focused on building their capacity to work toward a better future for Detroit. Many participants reported that the training workshops delivered organization-wide benefits and directly supported their organization’s mission.

The report of this pilot stated: “The nonprofit organizations have overwhelmingly told us that these dollars matter, and that the individuals benefiting from them would not have been able to receive many of the training opportunities any other way. Many executive directors have reported to us informally that training dollars are always the first to go when budgets are tight. Many of the organizations really had to stop and “think big” with this opportunity, as they so rarely are able to attend/afford quality training sessions. The individuals have both formally and informally reported to us that they appreciated that someone cares about them and their careers. Furthermore, they recognize that Detroit needs to stay abreast of new thinking if we are to rebuild in an exciting, thoughtful, sustainable way.” A follow-up survey is now underway to capture how these leaders are applying their new learning in their day-to-day work revitalizing Detroit.

The Knight investment, via this unique partnership with the Community Foundation, has thoughtfully boosted the efforts of Detroit’s hard-working nonprofit leaders, whose organizations are not able to support such professional development or ongoing education.

Below, please find snapshots of the stories of these individuals as they distill what they learned and how it impacted their organizations.


Lionel Bradford – Vice President of Operations, The Greening of Detroit

Attended: C-Link Customize Leadership Coaching and Training

Lionel’s Takeaway: “This training helped to build capacity and ensure consistency in priorities among The Greening’s leaders. It also helped with clarifying goals, designing work flow, and developing structure and systems that support The Greening’s mission and values.”



Martin Dober – Vice President, Invest Detroit & Managing Director, Detroit Innovate

Attended: National Venture Capital Association VentureScape Conference, Xconomy Summit, State Science & Technology Institute Annual Conference, PowerMoves NOLA

Martin’s Takeaway: “Our team attended four events that strengthened our investor networks outside of Michigan. One of the events was PowerMoves in New Orleans, and we were so impressed with it, that we decided to work with their team to bring the minority-focused entrepreneurial event to Detroit. We held this event in Detroit in April of this past year, and it was extremely successful.”



Ponsella Hardaway – Executive Director, Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength (MOSES)

Attended: Kellogg Executive Education Center for Nonprofit Management: Strategic Leadership

Ponsella’s Takeaway: “I learned the process of reflection to uncover my leadership style by discovering my strengths, motivations and conditions necessary for authentic leadership. The inspiring moment for me was learning the power of the benefit of the doubt. When you take time to learn about the other person, they stop becoming “the other.”  I define extraordinary leadership through a new lens!”

Michele Hodges – Executive Director, Belle Isle Conservancy

Attended: Attended a training session

Michelle’s Takeaway: “To be empowered with knowledge is a powerful force when enabling leaders to lead on behalf of the communities they represent.  Our team gained a considerable knowledge base as part of the program, which has provided the energy behind a considerable amount of momentum.”



Bob O’Brien – Senior Vice President, Southwest Solutions

Attended: Technology of Participation in Resident-led Community Development

Bob’s Takeaway: “The training sessions provided Southwest Solutions staff and other neighborhood leaders with many skills and techniques they have used to organize resident voice and build consensus about important community goals.”



Justin Schott – Executive Director, EcoWorks

Attended: School Sustainability Leaders Summit (2014), Center for Green Schools, U.S. Green Building Council

Justin’s Takeaway: “Attending the summit connected me with an impressive network of thought leaders and helped me map out a strategy to expand our program to new school districts.  Perhaps more importantly, the experience changed the way I value professional development and motivated me to invest in a comprehensive leadership development strategy for all staff.”



Olga Stella – Former Chief Operating Officer, Detroit Economic Growth Corporation

Attended: Public Speaking Training Series, Trainer Eleni Kelakos

Olga’s Takeaway: “I learned new techniques for effectively getting my message across to different audiences, especially in impromptu settings. I had fun learning with my colleagues and encouraging those who felt less certain about public speaking. We all came away with a greater sense of confidence, ability and polish.”

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