Evaluating non-profit organizations

By Kathleen Kelly

There are over 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States and almost 8,000 in New Hampshire. One in eight people in New Hampshire works for a nonprofit. Nonprofits in New Hampshire represent 14 percent of the gross domestic product. There are 5.76 nonprofits per person in New Hampshire. 31.7 percent of New Hampshire residents volunteer for a nonprofit on the board or providing services to clients, or fund raise. Four out of five households in New Hampshire financially support nonprofits.

When I have a great idea for a nonprofit, I go to CharityNavigator.org, which rates nonprofits in different ways, and GuideStar.org, which features information, including tax returns of nonprofits. There I usually find 10-20 nonprofits within 100 miles doing something similar to my great idea! Then I call them or email them a few questions about their mission and clients they serve, read their Facebook page, their blog, their newsletters, their Tweets, and determine who has served on their board. Most often I know someone who works there or volunteers there, willing to talk about their organization.

If I feel they are doing great work, I might even suggest the idea I have or consider being a part of the board or volunteering for them or contributing in-kind services. I might even donate to their cause. But I do not rush out to start a new nonprofit. You may ask, “why?

I am a fundraising coach, a grant writer and a retired CPA with nonprofit accounting experience. There are a few things that people do not know about nonprofits:

1. They must figure out a way to be sustainable within three to five years of operation.

2. They must connect donors, government organizations and/or corporations to a defined mission.

3. They must research and follow best practices in nonprofit management as well as the problem they are trying to solve.

4. A board of directors with term limits, policies, bylaws, and procedures is a must. The board will develop a strategic plan including goals and strategies for the organization.

5. Granting agencies are not interested in funding operations/administration. They are interested in programs. The granting agency requires the nonprofit to develop a sustainability model within three to five years or less. They will require documentation that the organization did what it said it would and that they achieved the outcomes outlined in the grant.

6. The nonprofit needs to register and then annually report in every state in which it will be doing fundraising, meet unique auditing and reporting requirements and pay fees.

7. Records management and retention are critical if you are managing confidential material, supervising employees, managing reimbursement for services to clients.

8. The nonprofits must annually evaluate not only employees but also volunteers.

9. In today’s world, the executive director of the nonprofit must also be a branding, communications, database and social media specialist.

10. States like Connecticut, Illinois and New Jersey are not paying for services provided by nonprofits or are paying very late, so the nonprofit needs to have much more cash on hand than they expect.

If a nonprofit in New Hampshire needs operating support, I always suggest they try the New Hampshire Center for Nonprofits, the Association of Fundraising Professionals — Northern New England or the New Hampshire Charitable Fund. I can list more nonprofits in Northern New England providing valuable support. If you want to communicate with me, send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Kathleen Kelly, certified fund-raising executive, is a fundraising coach, a grant writer and a retired CPA with nonprofit accounting experience. She lives in Randolph.