March 20, 2024

Have you ever thought that funder-sponsored organizational ‘capacity building’ may be detrimental to nonprofit workers and their communities? Today we talk about concrete ways we could improve the framing and practice of capacity building to better support the brilliance and resilience of diverse nonprofit workers and organizations.

Today's guests are Melissa DeShields and Marcus Littles from Frontline Solutions, a Black-owned and -led social change consulting firm. We discuss our guests recent Nonprofit Quarterly articles about why the term “capacity building” should be retired, and ways to improve the practice itself under whatever title it goes by.

How can funders think and act differently regarding grantee capacity? And how can nonprofit leaders respond to funders, and/or proactively design their own efforts? Learn more about these questions and more on today’s episode.

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Guest Bios:

Melissa DeShields, CEO AND PARTNER

A principled leader and expert project manager, Melissa helps organizations build strong teams, develop effective strategy, and execute high-impact projects. As CEO of Frontline, Melissa actively fosters a culture of learning, reflection, and deep connection. She takes pride in all aspects of her work, from building client relationships to overseeing financial operations to supporting and mentoring staff. Melissa considers herself an unleasher of talent and a celebrator of Black brilliance. As such, she works tirelessly to ensure Frontline acknowledges, affirms, and rewards the genius, creativity, and wisdom of staff members and community partners.

Melissa has been a member of Frontline’s senior leadership team since 2015, helming projects for Grantmakers for Girls of Color, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, among others. Prior to joining Frontline, Melissa launched her own consulting practice and held senior-level positions at the Urban Affairs Coalition and The Philadelphia Foundation. She is a graduate of Rutgers University.


A strategist and visionary, Marcus has been instrumental in directing philanthropic investment at the intersection of race and gender. In 2005, he founded Frontline to advise philanthropists on a multi-billion-dollar investment in Gulf Coast recovery in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Since then, Marcus has led Frontline in reimagining the role of “consultant” and becoming an integral part of the racial justice ecosystem.

Marcus is passionate about connecting with members of his network to leverage individual and collective assets to create a more equitable world. Over the course of his career, he has pursued racial justice in several sectors, including government, philanthropy, and education. In 2016, Marcus was named one of Living Cities’ 25 Disruptive Leaders Who Are Working to Close the Racial Opportunity Gaps, alongside Ta-Nehisi Coates and Angela Glover Blackwell.

Marcus is a visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. He serves on the boards of The Beautiful Project, Brotherhood Sistersol, and School Justice Project, as well as the advisory boards of Communities for Just Schools Fund and the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color. A native of Mobile, Alabama, Marcus is a graduate of Auburn University. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Delaware.

Season 6 is sponsored by Loftis Partners. They've launched the Pay Equity Collective, a peer learning experience that provides capacity building, strategic resources, and a supportive community for nonprofits seeking pathways to pay equity. Visit to learn more! Loftis Partners – Empowering organizations and advancing equity, one collective step at a time!