Previous Topic: Fiscal Responsibility

Now that you’ve got some tools to evaluate the historical financial health and decision making of prospective organizations, you now need to figure out whether you’re dumping your money down a black hole long term. The buzzword here is “sustainability”, and we’re going to use it in 2 senses: program sustainability and financial sustainability. To make this simple, I’m going to lay out a handful of sample questions you can ask an organization. One quick note, though: These really only apply to long term organizations. If you are interested in giving toward short-term relief efforts such as those for hurricanes and other natural disasters, you can probably skim through this quickly.

Program Sustainability:

  • Do they have a succession plan? If something catastrophic were to happen to one or more key players in the organization, could it continue on?
  • For international organizations, how much do they involve local nationals? Are they highly dependent on foreign volunteers who often are on limited term commitments? Do they experience high turnover as a result?
  • Have they established key metrics that allow them to evaluate progress and adapt to prolong the lifespan of their programs?
  • Are they vigilant about compliance with local and national laws? This may affect the legality of their programs and their relationship with policy makers who can determine the fate of the organization and its programs.
  • Are their programs based on popular trends or well-established and well-researched best practices?

Financial Sustainability:

  • Have they developed any revenue-producing business opportunities that supplement charitable gifts?
  • Do they have any expenditure-reducing initiatives such as agricultural programs or in-house skilled laborers?
  • Do they have any type of savings or investment account? This question can be tricky, however, because an overly aggressive savings plan means they may be hoarding money that could be used to improve or grow their programs, thereby violating their mission.
  • Are they able to utilize volunteers (read: free labor) in a way that doesn’t jeopardize program sustainability?

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, it should at least get you thinking about the long term viability of the organization to whom you’d like to give. You’ve worked hard to earn what you have, and so it matters that it will be part of a program that affects change for years to come.

Next Topic: Impact

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