ATLAS, symbolic of strength and endurance in Greek mythology, is a Piper Trust program designed to increase the operational capacity and organizational resilience of select nonprofits in Maricopa County. Dr. Susan Kenny Stevens, founder of the Nonprofit Lifecycles Institute, designed and developed ATLAS in partnership with Piper Trust. Dr. Stevens is a renowned expert on nonprofit capacity building and pioneered the nonprofit lifecycle framework. She holds a doctorate in organizational behavior and is the author of five books and numerous journal articles and case studies. ATLAS draws heavily on the principles in Nonprofit Lifecycles, Dr. Stevens’ award-winning book first published in 2001.
ATLAS is a stage-based approach to building capacity and developing organizational resilience. The ATLAS framework considers that organizations at various stages of development have different capacity needs—this is known as the “life-cycle approach” to capacity building. For example governance, management, financial, and human resources systems present challenges requiring discretely different strategies at each stage of an organization’s development. Thus, the management challenges of start-ups will be different than those that are institutionally mature.
ATLAS assesses organizational operating capacity, addresses current critical challenges, and facilitates development of a plan to move forward. Participating organizations assemble a leadership team which is assisted by a specially trained organizational lifecycles consultant supported by Piper Trust. The consultant guides the team through a highly individualized program designed to strengthen the organization. In addition, participating teams join a cohort which provides a robust peer learning experience. Participating organizations also receive $100,000 in grant funds to support organizational sustainability and capacity improvements. Leadership teams of ATLAS organizations may also join ongoing facilitated peer learning that continues beyond the two-year program term.
Participant selection is based upon a number of factors including: the critical nature of the organization’s services, requisite staff and board for a sufficient leadership team, and the organization’s current lifecycle phase. Selection for the program does not imply the need for capacity building, but rather reflects the Trust’s confidence in an organization and its team.