When I worked for a large asset, national Foundation, our staff developed an acronym which we used to evaluate all prospective nonprofit organizations. The same criteria was applied to any letter of inquiry or full grant proposal that came to our desks, no matter the cause, or the category of service.
That acronym is VISION+.
It stands for the following.
- Visionary Leadership. Leadership is all about the Executive Director and the Board. What is the reputation of the Executive Director? A strong leader is the single most effective tool for attracting funders. That goes the same for an active board, that is engaged in fund raising, and represents the community. This is at the top of the VISION+ model for a reason.
- Impact. An organization must demonstrate effectiveness of the program, project, or service model. Is there potential for systemic change? Impact may be defined as direct, indirect (leverages the effectiveness of other programs and projects), immediate, long-term, best practices. It is important to demonstrate impact.
- Sustainability. This is important to Foundations. They will look at 990’s, P&L Statements, and Balance Sheets. Are the finances strong and stable? Is there a diverse funding base?
- Innovation. This is a rather nebulous concept that can be hard to define. It could mean an organization has the potential to change the field, establish a new practice, or simply improve how a specific population is being served. Innovation may also apply to organizational structure and/or partnerships.
- Organizational Strength. Is there strong management & communication systems? Does the staff reflect the diversity of the community it serves?
- Network of Partnerships.This is all about collaboration. Is collaboration ongoing part of service delivery? Are there public-private partnerships in place? Is there a network of providers that is integrated into the community? And how instrumental is this organization within the greater network of providers?
- + Population Served. Is the population being served one that does not have many resources or options available to it? Is the organization serving economically disadvantaged and under-served communities?
I hope this serves as helpful insight for nonprofit organizations who have no clue how Foundations work. Often they seem like Ivy Towers with fortress walls, impossible to penetrate and even harder to figure out. And the truth is that every Foundation is different, with their own values and priorities, their own founders and Board members. So every funder looks for different things, and has their own reasons for supporting different causes.
But on the whole, I can tell you that these values and criteria are universal. If you can demonstrate impact, effectiveness, and innovation, you will rise above the competition for limited funding dollars. And let me know if you have experiences with Foundations that can help inform this post.
Lots of criteria to weigh
Here are GuideStar.com‘s tips for donors 10 Steps to Giving Wisely and Researching Charities
- Clarify your values.
- Do this before you open your checkbook, volunteer your time, or look at that letter from a charity.
- Identify your preferences.
- Ask yourself: “What is important to me?” The environment? Education? Hunger? Animal welfare? Helping sick children?
- Where should the charity do its work—in your neighborhood, region, the nation, or internationally?
- Ask yourself if you want to support a large or small charity, a new or an old one.
- Focus on the mission.
- Look at each charity’s description on its Web site, or in its literature.
- Find the nonprofits that fit best with your values.
- Eliminate organizations that don’t meet your criteria.
- Get the cold, hard facts. A reputable organization will:
- Define its mission and programs clearly.
- Have measurable goals.
- Use concrete criteria to describe its achievements.
- Verify a charity’s legitimacy.
- If you find a charity on GuideStar (www.guidestar.org), you know it’s legitimate—all nonprofits listed are registered with the IRS
- If the charity is not on GuideStar, ask to see its letter of determination.
- If the organization is faith based, ask to see its official listing in a directory for its denomination.
- Compare this Charity to similar organizations, compare apples to apples
Be sure to compare charities that do the same work, especially for their finances. The type of work a charity does can affect its operating costs dramatically.
- Avoid charities that won’t share information or pressure you. Reputable nonprofits
- Will discuss their programs and finances.
- Don’t use pressure tactics.
- Send you literature about their work or direct you to a Web site.
- Will take “no” for an answer.
- Trust your instincts.
If you still have doubts about a charity, don’t contribute to it. Instead, find another nonprofit that does the same kind of work and with which you feel comfortable, then make your donation.
I normally don’t take directly from another source, but I found these to be helpful.
I believe that all of us like to view ourselves as philanthropists, and I think we all are, if we choose to be.
Although I don’t make a lot of money, I find value in donating to charity, and the decisions of who I choose to give to are never that easy.
I don’t know if I have earned the title of “The Nonprofit Guy” quite yet, but I was the first to snag the URL, so I suppose that counts for something. Nonetheless, I have a lot of good experience working in the nonprofit sector in Los Angeles, as a Program Officer for a private Foundation, as a Fundraiser for a major nonprofit organization (The American Red Cross), as a grant writer for a couple of grassroots startup nonprofits, and as a Board Member for yet another small nonprofit. So I’ve seen some things over the years.
In this blog, I want to concern myself with the ways that nonprofits can strengthen their organizations. Especially grassroots and startup orgs. I will focus on fundraising, how to attract major donors, and creative ways to survive and grow. And I want to encourage participation from those who are in the same position – trying to survive and grow.
There are approximately 50,000 registered 501c3 nonprofits in the 5-county region of Southern California. The rule still holds true that about 10% of the organizations are receiving 90% of the available dollars from foundations and corporations. So often a smaller nonprofit is scaling an uphill wall, while simultaneously banging their head against said wall, just to get some funding.
Well I’m here to tell you that all is not lost. There is still hope. And there are ways to get ahead. Nonprofit organizations are the unsung heroes of this country. They fill in the holes where the public sector so often fails. There are a necessary institution, and without nonprofit groups. and the tireless folks who are leading them, our society would be in a worse place. So I salute your leadership. Keep fighting the good fight, and hopefully we can accomplish some good together.