Organizational budget size is a favorite proxy indicator in philanthropy. Donors use rules of thumb to streamline grantmaking due diligence, but generalizations are imperfect. Using organizational budget size as a proxy indicator can reinforce funding inequities and lead to lost opportunity. Here are a few ways to find and minimize the blind-spots.

Avoiding organizational budget blind-spots

As advisors, we caution grant proposal reviewers about the following blind-spots in nonprofit budgeting, financing, and fundraising data:

  • Ignoring the difference between restricted vs unrestricted funds
    Organizations might have large budgets but not have the flexibility to spend revenues most effectively. They need unrestricted income to innovate, grow, or build capacity. A huge hospital system, for example, may have millions in revenues that support health care, but no discretionary income to pilot an innovative program to train workers.
  • Overlooking different nonprofit capitalization structures
    Different nonprofit sectors have different capitalization structures. Not all organizations finance their work in the same way. Youth development, for example, is more reliant on institutional philanthropy. Health care might be more dependent on fee-for-service contracts or reimbursements and may have less cash for capacity building. A small research institute at a state college may have to raise every dime of its budget and not get the college’s support beyond office space and a mention in an annual report.
  • Failing to distinguish particular types of capital
    Nonprofit Finance Fund guide outlines the various types of capital that, combined, support a healthy capital structure. Understanding the intended or prudent use of each of an organization’s types of capital is important if grant decisions hinge on budget size. The tutorial program at a Boys and Girls Club with an annual budget of $5.9 million may or may not be financially stronger than the program at a GIRLS Inc. with a $375,000 annual budget. Much depends on how the programs are financed.
  • Anchoring
    Proxy indicators can anchor a bias in favor of a person’s particular decision. “We don’t like funding large (or small) organizations” is a common anchor that precludes a more nuanced analysis.

Read the full article about organizational budget size by Prentice Zinn at Exponent Philanthropy.