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Section 1. Developing a Plan for Financial Sustainability

Tool 1: Internal audit sheet

Use this sheet to do an internal audit for your organization as described in Step 3 of this section. Depending on the size of your organization, you may need to add additional pages, or further separate some of the categories. On the other hand, many of the costs listed will not be applicable to smaller groups.

To use this sheet, do the following:

  1. List the funding you have (or for future years, anticipate having) from each source in the appropriate box.
  2. Add up the funding from each source for every year. Write these totals in the box marked Total of funding from all sources.
  3. Go to the second half of the table, Amount of expenses. Write in all of your current and anticipated expenses for each year. The cells in grey should be totaled in the white cells above them. For example, the cost of each staff member should be written out individually, and the total of all of the staff costs should be added in Total Personnel Costs. A similar process should take place for Total Program Costs.
  4. Add up the expenses for each year. Do NOT include the grey cells in this figure, as they will be added in under the subtotals for personnel and program costs. Write these figures in the Total of all expenses for each year.
  5. Subtract the amount in Total of all expenses from the Total of funding from all sources for each year. If you have a positive number, you have a real or projected budget surplus - your organization has extra money, and is in the black. If the number you have found for a given year is negative, you have a real or projected deficit for that year - you are in the red, and will need to find additional resources.
  6. Confusing? See Examples for a filled out version of this table.

Internal Audit Sheet

  Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5
Amount of Funding
Funding from Source 1:          
Funding from Source 2:          
Funding from Source 3:          
Funding from Source 4:          
Funding from Source 5:          
Total from all funding sources:          
Amount of expenses
Staff #1(list title and %FTE):          
Staff #2:          
Staff #3:          
Staff #4:          
Staff #5:          
*Total Personnel Costs:          
Program #1:          
Program #2:          
Program #3:          
**Total Program Costs:          
Amount paid on debt          
Total of all expenses:          

* For personnel costs, include salary and the cost of fringe benefits. FTE = full time employment
** Remember to take personnel costs out of program costs, as they are listed separately.

Tool 2: What donors want from you

What follows is a list of desires that are typical of many groups of donors, such as government agencies, foundations, and individual donors. By knowing what members want, you will be able to target your marketing to their desires.

All of these suggestions should be taken as a starting point. Just as different nonprofit organizations want very different things, different donors will have their individual desires as well. It's your job to figure out what they are, and how your organization can best fulfill them.

Government agencies (federal, state, city, or county)

  • A carefully defined set of services, provided by a carefully defined set of people, in a set period, often in a set manner, with no audit exceptions, and with all paper work in on time.
  • Generally, government representatives want you to know regulations cold.
  • You should meet all of their regulatory and bureaucratic wants.
  • You might also design specific materials (such as reports or brochures) using needs and keywords of government. They should emphasize outcomes, quality, and certification levels.


  • Clear, tangible benefits that they actually receive.
  • Updates on what the organization is doing.


  • Innovative projects that meet their criteria
  • A demonstration of strong community support
  • Self-sustainability within approximately three years
  • Usually, they want general information, such as your mission, history, and goals.
  • Letters of endorsement from community leaders or collaborators can be helpful

We should note here that foundations are a slightly different case than other potential donors. Many times, they are located across the country, and each may be unique in its desires and goals. Talk to program officers of foundations if you can, and ask what they like to see most and least in applications. Read the foundation press and consider getting help from an experienced, successful grant writer.

United Ways

  • Guidelines for funding met precisely.

United Ways are an excellent source of funding for many small community organizations. If your United Way does needs assessments, make sure that you participate so that your service area needs are included.


  • To support a program.
  • To support an endowment.
  • Some want to be visibly thanked for your contribution; many others don't. Ask.

Donors, both individual and corporate, have wants that vary widely. Organizations should learn who is most likely to donate, and focus energies on these potential donors.

Users who pay fees

  • High quality and value for their money. Note that we say value, not low prices. Many people who pay fees won't balk at a high price tag if they feel they are getting a lot out of it. For example, a group of tourists may willingly pay ten or twenty dollars to tour a historical site if they have heard that it is particularly beautiful, or that the guide is exceptionally charming.

While this list gives many of the more common ways for a nonprofit organization to raise money, it isn't meant to be a complete list. Does your group have other potential means of funding? What are they?

From Peter Brinckerhoff's Financial Empowerment: More Money for More Mission. Used with permission.

Tool 3: Timeline

For each financial goal, use a separate cell to write out the action steps that need to occur, who will do them, and by when. This chart can then be used as a reminder for what you still need to do.

Timeline for Financial Sustainability Plan

Goal Action Steps to meet the objective By whom By when Completed?

Tool 4: Developing a strategic funding plan

Innovation Network, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1993 to meet the critical information and evaluation needs of nonprofit and public organizations. InnoNet's mission is to help agencies better plan, executive and evaluate their structures, organizations, and services. Their web page will walk you through an interactive page to help you develop a strategic funding plan. The service is free, but you will need to register.