Five simple questions every nonprofit should answer

 In Communications, Fundraising, Philanthropy

Does everyone in your nonprofit know the answers to these five questions about your work?

  1. What is your organization aiming to accomplish?
  2. What are your strategies for making this happen?
  3. What are your organization’s capabilities for doing this?
  4. How will your organization know if you are making progress?
  5. What have and haven’t you accomplished so far?

image of the number 5These five questions form the foundation of Charting Impact, a new initiative of BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Guidestar USA and Independent Sector funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. In this article, Hewlett’s Program Officer Jacob Harold discusses their support for Charting Impact.

If you have been through a strategic planning process before or if you have built a comprehensive case for support, it is likely that you have thought about these questions already.

By encouraging nonprofits to go through a process to answer these five questions, the project’s leaders hope to promote strategic thinking and the open sharing of ideas, strategies and results through standardized reports, available on the website.

Since many foundations already look at a prospective grantee’s Guidestar profile during the due diligence process, particularly 990 tax returns, this report could help nonprofits share their impact beyond those financials – to potential funders and donors.

You can download a Discussion Copy of Charting Impact to use in your conversations and development process. The guide suggests that you consider selecting one person to champion the process and manage the writing while involving the perspectives of multiple people from across the organization. Charting Impact’s pilot with 39 organizations suggests that the most successful reports will include input from five to six individuals over a period of two weeks.

As of this writing, 62 nonprofits are participating in Charting Impact and have submitted reports to the website. I was curious to find out how many of those participants are California or Bay Area-based organizations, but the Charting Impact search function seems to need a fix. Manually scanning the list of 62, I spotted a few Bay Area-based organizations: Women’s Funding Network, GreatNonprofits and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (the funder). All three participated in the 2010 pilot of this project.

Writing tips
When writing responses to the five questions, the Charting Impact project offers these tips:

  • Use simple declarative sentences.
  • Be clear. Don’t ask the reader to guess what you mean (This is a great tip because confusion does not lead to persuasion!).
  • Be concise. Include only necessary supporting information.
  • Be specific. Use numbers and examples where possible.
  • Use commonly understood language. Avoid jargon.
  • Charting Impact logo

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