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What I learned from talking to 70+ Fiscal Sponsors

The 3 Keys to Being a Successful Project

Over the last year, I’ve connected with more than 70 organizations that offer some form of fiscal sponsorship to discuss their individual programs, goals and the directions in which their organizations are heading. I also dove into what these individual sponsors look for in project applicants and what makes projects successful in their fiscal sponsorship programs.

It has been a fascinating set of discussions with organizations that literally run the gamut on just about every dimension you can imagine

  • Size – Number of staff, total assets, and number of projects under sponsorship.
  • Location – These sponsors are spread across the U.S. in 20 states.
  • Life stage – From sponsors that are well-established and well-known, to those that are recent startups and everything In-between.
  • Mission/Type – Some offer fiscal sponsorship as their primary work, others offer sponsorship as part of a wider mission.
  • Service Focus – Some are focused on a specific issue area, i.e. the environment, or the arts, and others are open to projects with a wider range of activities and goals.
  • Geographic Focus – Some focus on a specific city, county, region, state or even a specific bioregion (you know who you are!) and others are boundary-less, even working with organizations based outside of the U.S.
  • Project Stage – Some sponsors are looking for projects that have a fair amount of committed funding, while others are focused on working with true startups.
  • Project Budgets – Some are looking for projects that have 5- and 6-figure budgets or committed funds of similar size while others accept true startups with $5,000 in funds or even less.
  • Types of Sponsorship Offered – Some primarily offer Model A sponsorship, others Model C – and some offer both, and even delve into other Models.
  • Approach – Some are “high-touch” offering more customized services and training to a smaller number of projects and others are more process-driven, serving a larger number of projects in a more efficient way.

This is only a snapshot – and fiscal sponsorship is offered by many, many more organizations beyond the ones I’ve spoken with – but considering the sample size and the specific organizations that I’ve made contact with, it’s really incredible to see the true flexibility of fiscal sponsorship -- how it can operate in so many different situations and benefit so many different types of nonprofits.

Yet, even with all of these differences, I also discovered three really powerful similarities among these organizations:

  • Passion: Their teams are strong, passionate and hard at work improving their communities (however they choose to define “community”).
  • GROWTH: Except for a couple of specific situations, all of these organizations have added projects in recent months – and they are expecting to continue to do so.
  • Who They Want to Work With: Just about everyone I spoke with stressed that their organizations are looking for applicants and project leads who demonstrate the following:
    • An understanding that sponsorship involves a true partnership between the project and the sponsor
    • Experience with the issue that the Project will focus on and the knowledge, network and support system that comes with it
    • A reasonable, viable plan (with financial projections), that shows project leadership has done their research and isn’t duplicating existing services/activities

Of course, every sponsor has its own specific criteria and process, but if a new Project Lead can check those three boxes in a meaningful way, they’ll be on their way.

Based on these discussions, and my on-going work in this sector, it seems that fiscal sponsorship has a bright future ahead of it – especially as more people really understand what it is, how it can be used and the value it brings.

Special thanks to all of the fiscal sponsors who took the time to speak share their experiences and thoughts.

How would you describe your fiscal sponsorship experience, either as a sponsor or a project? Did I miss anything? Please add to this discussion by commenting below.

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