Three questions to ask before your nonprofit takes on a new project

The nonprofit world is exciting. It’s easy to get carried away with ideas on how we can make this world a better place! There are SO many worthy causes and so many opportunities for partnership. However, not all projects, partnerships and programs will be a great match for your organization. Your resources are limited, so you have to choose carefully where you are going to invest them.

Here are three questions to help you decide whether to take on that new project/partnership/program.

  1. Does this [project, partnership, program, etc.] support our mission to [insert your mission statement here]? Ultimately, it boils down to this one question. If the answer is yes, great! However, if the answer is no, take some time to really think about why you want to take on this project. It may be a great project, but if it’s not aligned with your mission, you’ll be pulling resources away without moving the organization forward. While you’re doing that, review your mission statement, this should be what guides your organizations plans.
  2. Do we have the funding? If you do, again, that’s great! If not, it does not necessarily mean you can’t move forward. Depending on the size of the project, you may still be able to work on it. However, be sure to evaluate your resources and work within those parameters while looking for funding and make sure your team knows the situation.
  3. What is the work/benefit ratio? Consider the resources you will have to invest (volunteer hours, staff time, equipment, dollars, etc.), as well as how the organization/population served will benefit. Will this partnership produce lots of work, but little results? If the work outweighs the benefit, it’s time to reconsider this endeavor. Remember, resources are limited and have to be used wisely. Throwing resources into a project with little to no benefit (ROI) may not be a smart move.

Sometimes an idea might seem great in theory, but after some thoughtful consideration, you might find that occasionally it may be in the organizations best interest to gracefully decline some “opportunities”.  In the words of Good to Great author Jim Collins, “to do the most good requires saying “no” to pressures to stray and the discipline to stop doing what does not fit.”

Why is this so important?

  1. Organizational success – You want your organization to find a cure, end hunger, etc! It’s why you’re here! You have a great mission and if you focus and make sure resources are used wisely, you can change the world.
  2. Accountability – We are accountable not only to the community we serve, but also to the donors who fund our efforts. You want your funders to be confident in your organizations ability to achieve its mission AND in your organizations ability to manage its resources (i.e. the money they gave you!). Donors support you because they believe in your mission. They trust that when they give you money, you will use it to accomplish that mission.

Have some other questions to add to the list? Share them below!


4 thoughts on “Three questions to ask before your nonprofit takes on a new project

  1. Important post. I love the point about the work/benefit ratio and think that non-profits need to be more honest with themselves about this one. A lot of times, I fear that we convince ourselves that it’s worth it….but burn out good employees and volunteers in the process.

    • Thanks! Your right, it’s not worth risking employee and volunteer burn out. I think it’s especially difficult when these projects come disguised as a “perfect fit” for the organization.

  2. Great post! Being a development diva myself, I would probably add to the list, what would our board/donors think of this? This can especially relate to the work/benefit question – if board members wouldn’t be happy that you’re dedicating 50 hours to a special event, it might not be worth it. Board members, although not perfect, usually have the nonprofit’s best interests at heart!

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