As part of the GivingPartner launch last month, the Community Foundation of Sarasota hosted a 36-hour Challenge. Collectively, 106 nonprofits earned the opportunity to compete for half a million dollars in prizes and matching funds. While the Challenge was exceptional in terms of its length, match, and the ability for nonprofits to easily measure outcomes for the effort put forth, it was not unique in at least one aspect. Before hand, each nonprofit organization decided to pursue or not pursue the Challenge.
Every day you make similar decisions to pursue or not pursue funding opportunities. Nonprofit opportunities are vast and varied. You decide if you will apply for that grant, open a ticket booth at Saturday’s market, join “on-line popularity contests” that require you to entice your customers to vote for you, and, while it’s not often thought of this way, ask individuals for donations.
With most nonprofit income opportunities, including the Challenge, one size does not fit all. Some opportunities provide too little return or no return for the effort. Other funding options confuse current donors. (“I participated in their fundraiser, why are they asking me for a donation?”) Still others don’t fit with the strategy at the heart of the nonprofit’s efforts. At worst, they provide little money plus a lot of distraction from the key essential actions the nonprofit needs to do to succeed. To maximize income, nonprofit leaders must discern which opportunities are worthwhile and which to skip. They must do so with imperfect information, as flaws will continue to exist in all our crystal balls
Is there a way to make funding decisions to maximize your returns? Yes. Think of it as consistently making quality investment decisions. How can you maximize the possibility of making these quality decisions? Establish Pursue or Not Pursue Criteria to apply consistently to each opportunity encountered. Criteria reduce the chance that you will say “yes” in the morning and “no” in the afternoon as your day’s decision-making energy wanes. (Studies show that judges grant less parole as the day advances and before breaks.)
Used regularly, criteria will help you to maximize funding and save time. With them, you can examine opportunities quickly. In 90 percent of the cases, you will pass on misfits in 15 minutes or less. Criteria allow you to say “no” gracefully to presenters who need to be heard because of who they are. (When you turn them down you refer to the criteria.) When you have multiple opportunities, criteria allow you to compare and contrast them. When used regularly, criteria help staff, board members, and volunteers to fine-tune their income-seeking skills. Criteria allow pre-selecting ideas with the potential to meet the criteria. They also help staff to prepare materials for decision-making, since they can anticipate criteria related questions.
Most importantly, when your criteria encompass your key strategic actions, each Pursue or Not Pursue decision holds the potential to move you directly toward your goals. The right criteria help you to step back and see each opportunity both for income potential and for what else will be achieved. The best funding does more than just provide money. For example, your plan calls for a national grassroots effort via the Internet. By selecting and using criteria, you prefer funding that provides income and gets your cause and web address out front-and-center.
While the goal of funding decisions is first about funding, these decisions also have the potential to impact your nonprofit’s other bottom lines. It is rarely efficient only to gain income when you can also gain more mission and more community support, too. Since every funding opportunity provides multiple results, clear criteria help guide you to favorable options that provide more bottom lines for the buck. For instance, besides seeking income, sustainability requires that you also seek younger donors to guarantee your future. By using criteria that includes income potential and improved sustainability, you will select strategies that provide both.
Establishing criteria to grow a more monetized nonprofit is the result of intentional planning and continued evaluation once criteria are in place. Used, with flexibility, and upgraded based on the results achieved, Pursue or Not Pursue Criteria lead to more income, more community, and more mission.