How do I decide what nonprofit to support?

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“Selecting” refers to the final decision to make a specific grant to a specific grantee.

In situations where there is one decision maker (an independent philanthropist, for example), this process is fairly straightforward.

A more complicated decision-making environment, such as a family foundation, needs a formal decision-making process. Such a process will clarify who has the final authority to make the decision, how input will be considered, and what each stakeholder's role will be. 

Clarity about roles and steps in the decision-making process will result in:

  • Decisions that are more effective, efficient and responsive
  • Greater transparency and reduced conflict
  • Less time in limbo for potential grantees

Family foundations have special dynamics

Families rarely make decisions the way a corporate board or a high-performing executive team would. Along with individual ideas and personal agendas for what the foundation ought to be doing, each member brings a lifetime's worth of experiences, relationships, and emotions into the collective decision-making process. 

Achieving results, however, demands both clarity about how decisions are made and the discipline to make them within the context of how you've decided to focus your giving. This usually means saying no most of the time, both to avoid making grants that would throw your strategy off course, and so that you can double down when that is desirable from a strategic perspective. 

Being honest and clear up front about who gets to decide what can offset potential conflict. If a board of trustees is responsible for approving every grant and has a ninety-nine percent approval rate, it is reasonable to infer that the board's decision-making role is mainly a formality. Conversely, if the benefactor can override any decisions made by staff, and does so on a regular basis, then perhaps decision-making authority needs to be structured accordingly. 

A decision-making tool to consider

Many foundations and other organizations use the RAPID™ framework to clarify the decision making process. Find out how this tool works and how it can help you.

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