The Billings Project for Nonprofit Excellence (BPNE) began development at the Billings Community Foundation (BCF) in 2017 through a partnership led by Helena-based Big Sky Institute for the Advancement of Nonprofits (BSI). BPNE is a customized replication of the Missoula Project for Nonprofit Excellence (MPNE), a capacity building grants program that was developed in a partnership led by BSI.  The Missoula Community Foundation is the hub for coordinating MPNE. During MPNE’s pilot phase, it worked with BSI and several foundations in funding, program design and implementation, grantee selection, and addressing long-range sustainability for this innovative grants program. MPNE receives financial support from additional Missoula area funders, as well as a growing number of individual donors. Now in its fifth year of operating this program, MPNE has awarded $140,000 in capacity-building grants to 14 nonprofits.


Program Origins
In 2008, BSI partnered with a group of Montana foundations to collaboratively design a pioneering approach to capacity-building grantmaking for rural states like Montana, that have limited in-state foundation resources. BSI’s Montana Nonprofit Connections program (MNC) evolved from these efforts, and began a multi-year Demonstration Phase that ran three cycles of grant awards to test and refine the MNC approach, concluding in 2012. The MNC grants program helps strengthen the capacity and management capabilities of nonprofit organizations in Montana. Evaluation has documented that the grantmaking program has truly been transformative for participating nonprofits.
Summary Description of the Capacity Building Grant Awards
Using the two-step approach developed during the MNC program, BPNE’s grant program provides guidance and support for an organization’s board of directors and staff to:
  1. Participate in a Comprehensive Organizational Needs Assessment to determine the nonprofit’s strengths, weaknesses, and priorities for improvement. The process is facilitated by an experienced nonprofit consultant who provides a written report of findings and recommendations. Assessment Consultants will be chosen, assigned to nonprofit awardees and oriented.
  2. Using a $5,000 grant award, retain a consultant to assist the organization to undertake and complete a Capacity Building Project that addresses a priority need identified through the assessment process. Awardees receive training to help ensure maximum success.
About this Funding
The purpose of Billings Project for Nonprofit Excellence (BPNE) is to strengthen the capacity and capabilities of Billings-based nonprofit organizations so they will become more effective and efficient in managing their internal operations, and better serve their clients, supporters, and communities. The Project Grant Award is underwritten by these Core Funders: the Billings Community Foundation, the Spence Family Foundation, and the Don and Carol Roberts Foundation in memory of Virginia K. Weston. BPNE is administered by the Billings Community Foundation.


Capacity Building priorities include:
  • Vision, Goals & Planning – Mission statement, strategic goals, and written plans for achieving the goals.
  • Programs – Well planned program and project activities, and organizational services, that accomplish the organization’s goals.
  • Fundraising – A written fundraising plan reflecting diversified revenues, achievable goals, tracking systems, and cost effective choices for raising funds.
  • Budgeting, Accounting and Reporting – An annual budget based on past performance and documented assumptions, accounting system, internal controls, Board oversight, governmental reporting, as well as reporting to donors.
  • The Board of Directors – Strong governance that includes meeting preparation and participation, documentation of decision-making, effective committee structure, financial oversight, appropriate composition.
  • The Staff – Necessary expertise, appropriate compensation, manageable workload and regular evaluations.
  • Volunteers – Successful recruitment, orientation, and development of continuing volunteers.
  • PR and Marketing – Quality public information customized for priority target audiences, using traditional media channels, a website, other electronic communications and social media.