5 Pillars to a Successful Nonprofit Self-Assessment

NOV 12, 2019

Major donors, the ones who will invest significant amounts of money in your mission over multiple years, are looking for several indicators that your goals are sustainable before writing the check.

If these elements are not in place, they will move on to other organizations and you will continue to be passed over.  We’ve outlined below the critical elements for you and your board to assess during a nonprofit self-assessment.


1. Do you have a plan developed, in writing, that outlines what you plan to accomplish in the next three years and how this plan will significantly change the issue your mission addresses?

You must be able to clearly articulate to prospective major donors how their money will make a difference to the issue they care about. Traditional strategic plans tend to focus inward and don’t offer the kind of impact that draws large philanthropic investments.

2. Have you carefully determined what this plan will cost?

This is where you need to think like a for-profit. If you are going to expand, what will that cost?

Most nonprofits create their budgets one year at a time and fail to look forward to what they need to raise to really make a change over several years. 

The creation of a multi-year proforma is critical for potential investors to see that you are seeking enough money to be successful. Remember to include all costs even if those costs are currently offset by volunteers or in-kind donations. If you don’t know the real cost of doing your work, investors will worry that your plan is not sustainable.

3. Do you have the right people to pull off the plan?

This may seem like the easiest question to answer but in reality, it’s the hardest. Dedicated, passionate, caring people tend to support nonprofits. However, they are not necessarily the people who will scale the organization beyond the grassroots level.

I have had many major donors tell me that the first thing to look at is, the CEO/Executive Director. Is this person someone who has the business acumen to pull off a plan they might give a significant amount of their money too?

Many nonprofit leaders, especially founders, have tons of heart but not the skill to lead a multi-million-dollar operation. Beyond the key leader, do you have the staff in place who are able to do the work you are proposing, or will you need more or new positions? Is your board able to open the doors to the key stakeholders or donors you need to get involved?

While these discussions are never easy, they are the keys to success. If you suspect you don’t have the right people on the bus, donors will see it immediately.

4. Do you have enough donors cultivated who can support the financial goal you have proposed?

Usually, this is the one question most nonprofits quickly answer. Most often that answer is “no”.  But how do you know how many donors you need and at what levels?

That’s easy, watch our quick video on how to determine the number of prospects you need at each giving level to reach your goal.

The harder question is “where do I find people who can give at these levels to us?”. For that you need to dig deeper into prospect research and may need a Sharity expert identify prospects in your community and develop a plan to cultivate them.

Remember, this is not a quick process. Cultivation of a major gift takes 12-18 months, if done correctly. Before you try to launch a campaign, it is critical you have this question firmly in the “yes” or it’s a waste of your money and your donor’s time.

5. Do you have community champions?

Many nonprofits will say that they are the communities “best-kept secret”.  That’s not a good thing. But how do you breakthrough?

Before your brand becomes well-known, one way is to have individuals who are well respected in the community champion your nonprofit. These individuals can help open doors to key stakeholders and help you start the all-important process of gaining the respect of those who can financially support your work.

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Our Are You Ready To Grow Assessment is your first step to identifying key areas to evaluate in order to meet your fundraising goals