All nonprofits stand in front of streams of income opportunities. It’s like being in a water park, standing on the bank as inner tubes float past. Which ones do you grab? You watch and reject three flaccid rings. You pass on rings near rowdy swimmers. As you look, you establish criteria for the ring you want. After a few minutes, you hop on a ring and float.
Likewise, to determine the income opportunities you want to pursue, you need criteria, that is, standards to judge options. Why? Not every option provides the same results. It’s also counterproductive to follow every choice. What’s more, it’s a recipe for burnout. As they spread themselves thinner and thinner, they become less sustainable.
You base your best criteria on proven nonprofit standards. For example, the folks with Mrs. Garcia’s on the first list of donors represent outstanding planned gift prospects.
You fine-tune best practices with your experiences and needs. If you’re planning a capital gift campaign, your choice will focus on re-connecting with your past capital campaign donors to give them an update about the impact of their generosity.
What do criteria look like? They are short, measurable, and practical statements about what you want. You want them to be measurable because you’ll want to determine if, by using the option, you get what you want.
For example, an employee of the National Association of Accounting in the book, 7 Measures of Success, stated, “We could make a lot of money selling affinity credit cards, but we don’t do that because it doesn’t benefit our constituency.” Here’s their criterion: Programs benefit our constituency. The measure: Does it benefit our constituency or not?
Of course, you’ll want your criteria to be useful, make them realistic. There is no point saying that we’ll only talk to donors who will give a 5 million dollars unless you have lots of donors who have made 5 million dollar gifts to you or elsewhere.
Setting criteria or finding ideas to fit within them may look easy. Usually, it’s not—at least at first. This kind of big-picture work requires disciplined thinking and sorting. Weighing options requires you and your board to consider your values and beliefs. Using criteria, at all, implies you will not use every idea—a fact people with pet ideas want to face.
Finally, you will want to develop just a few criteria. Too many standards will lead you to rejection all your options–even the million-dollar ones. Too many criteria can be a way to avoid action. You let all the inner tubes pass by and never ride.
Criteria establish clear tests for decision-making. They allow you to compare apples to oranges–in a way that makes sense. Instead of discussing ill-fitting ideas for hours, you place low return options on the back burner. If your board spends hours making decisions, criteria will help them to halve board meeting time.
In any case, criteria improve your ability to make logical decisions and reduce emotions. When used along with an analysis of success and failure, your criteria will help you to replicate triumphs and avoid repeating mistakes.
If you don’t use criteria now, adopting them to evaluate grant opportunities makes a great starting place. Rejecting weak matches will save you from having to take a pen to paper or make keystrokes on an application with poor funding odds.
An agency that worked to prevent homelessness and started with these three criteria:
When they faced multiple opportunities and time challenges, they added one more: the chance to earn at least $50,000.
Your nonprofit has more opportunities to generate revenue and donations than it has time to pursue. To find the ones that provide the most returns, both now and in the long term, create standards that allow you to evaluate your options quickly. Before you get started, use your criteria to evaluate your investment.
1. In all likelihood, you already have some bubbling in your head. Jot them down.
2. Now add a list of the results you need.
3. Consider what you would never do. The opposite might be a criterion.
4. Use your draft list to evaluate a few options. Do the results make sense? Add and subtract ideas as you work until your list is short, realistic, and measurable.
Karen Eber Davis Consulting guides executive directors and CEOs to generate the resources, boards, and support they need to make remarkable progress on their missions. As the award-winning thought-leader, advisor, and founding principal of Karen Eber Davis Consulting, Karen helps nonprofit leaders get answers, generate revenue, and grow their mission. Davis is known for her innovation and practicality based on her work with or visits to over 1,000 nonprofit organizations and her experience leading board and team events. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.