So here’s a (probably somewhat familiar) scenario:
A board member brings a grant announcement to the quarterly board meeting. It looks pretty good, and seems to complement your organization’s strategic plan. The money is definitely in the right ballpark, and everyone gets excited about it and agrees that you (as the Executive Director or Development Director) should pursue it.
It’s a great opportunity. But the board has just handed you tons of work! And perhaps you are not quite as sure as everyone else that this is a ‘perfect’ fit for the organization’s next stage of growth.
What you just experienced certainly isn’t a valid decision making process.
Decision making, as we all know, is much improved if there is a structured approach. This applies to any decision, but becomes very important when the decision made creates a heavy workload for a staff member without any real idea if the outcome will be positive.
My response to these kinds of situations (which as a Development Director for several nonprofits I experienced way too often) was to develop an RFP Decision Matrix. Developing the Matrix helped me determine if applying to a specific grant opportunity was a wise investment of my time.
There are three steps to developing the Matrix:
Designing the Matrix
Because sources of funds can differ substantially, I recommend developing two matrices: one for private funding opportunities such as foundations or corporate giving programs, and one for government opportunities. For example, your relationship to a grantmaker can be important when applying to a regional business or community foundation, whereas it is somewhat irrelevant when applying to the federal government, hence the need for two matrices.
The Matrix consists of a set of criteria, each of which has been assigned a weight. It can be built in Excel or any spreadsheet program, such as a Google doc, that is made up of rows and columns. It relies on simple addition and subtraction which, when applied, reach a conclusion by giving you a “score.”
When applied, your score will influence your decision on whether you should apply to a particular grantmaker or a particular grant opportunity. This is somewhat a subjective process, but less so if you give careful thought to each criteria, the weight it carries, and the score.
Here are a few sample criteria you might want to consider using:
Is this funding consistent with our mission?
Is this a good fit given the funder’s priorities?
Do we have matching funds in place, if needed?
How competitive are we? (Check the number of grants to be awarded.)
Do we have the fiscal expertise?
Obviously each organization has to develop their own set of criteria, but this example gives you an idea of what criteria you might want to consider.
As far as assigning weights, I like my weights to run between 1 and 5 (with 5 being the highest). The total score is determined by the number of criteria you have and the highest score you can assign.
Although it really doesn't take much time to develop a Matrix, it’s important to do some research beforehand regarding application procedures so that you can establish a solid set of criteria.
Adopting the Matrix
It is very helpful if your board of directors or leadership agrees that you will use the Matrix as a way to evaluate funding opportunities. This allows you to take thank board members for that ‘great opportunity’ they brought to your attention, and then let them know that you will run it through the Matrix to see how it ranks.
Implementing the Matrix
There are three possible outcomes when you run a grant opportunity through your Matrix. The final score will land you firmly in one of these categories.
Red Light: Don’t apply
Yellow Light: Needs further consideration
Green Light: Apply
The beauty of developing and using the Matrix is that you will feel confident as you move forward with a proposal that this is good use of your time and energy. And if you don’t move forward, you will know that a logical decision was made.
Decision making is tough, especially when it comes to funding opportunities for your organization. But designing and implementing the RFP Decision Matrix should help you move into 2017 successfully.