February 2, 2012

How Do You Research Nonprofit Grantees?

Alison Powell is Bridgespan’s Philanthropy Knowledge Manager. Follow her on Twitter @abp615.

One of the most common challenges donors face is deciding which nonprofits to invest their scarce resources in. This challenge unites donors large and small—whether a friend has asked you to make a small donation to an organization she is passionate about or you are launching a multi-million dollar giving initiative. Either way, you will have to decide whether or not to write that check.

A few months ago, to help with this process, we launched the “Donor Decision Tool”—a guide to aid donors in alighting on a research path that feels right to them, depending on the situation at hand. The tool asks a set of 10 questions, and then provides a personalized plan based on your specific needs.

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Our tool outlines four overarching principles to guide your research:

  • Above all, do no harm. Be aware of the enormous power imbalance between donors and grantees and all that comes with it.
  • Be rigorous, but don’t overdo it. Pursue your research only to the extent that you need it to make a decision.
  • Be realistic. Expect that nonprofits will have weaknesses as well as strengths. Nonprofits in different stages will likely face different hurdles.
  • Be forward thinking. As you discover weaknesses, ask “what can I do to help?”

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be blogging about different pieces of content that we have created for this tool. I welcome thoughts and feedback about what we’re missing, and what we could do to improve on these materials.

Today, I’d like to highlight something that picks up on our second principle—balancing rigor with reason. By designing your process around the information most necessary to make a decision, and thinking of deficits not only as red flags, but also as opportunities for you to help, you can even get a head start on how you might work together with the nonprofit.

See here for a summary document you can use as a crib sheet for a set of questions you may want to ask, or that may spur yet more. It also provides a page for you to jot down your findings and any open questions.

What principles help guide your research into potential grantees?


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