Like much of the public and not-for-profit sectors, several of my clients are currently faced with the difficult choice of which worthy projects and activities are to benefit from their financial support. And as the amount of money available goes down, the decisions get harder. In such cases, it’s vital to have a robust and defensible way of determining which ideas we support and which we have, regrettably, to let slide.
I encourage my clients to focus on three attributes of each project: desirability, feasibility and capability. Each of these tell us something very different about the activity in question and helps us to decide whether or not it is worthy of our support.
Put simply, if this activity something that we want to fund? If everything to do with the project goes perfectly, will it achieve something that we want to see happen? Or, in the language of performance management, are the intended outcomes (i.e. the changes that the project will make to people’s lives, such as improved awareness, better health or changed behaviours) things that we want to support?
In considering the desirability of the idea, it’s helpful to think back to our aims and objectives, or to those of the funding that we have available. If we’re a health promotion charity, for example, then we probably won’t want to fund a crime reduction initiative, no matter how brilliant it is. And if we’ve been given a pot of money to support local grass-roots projects, then something run by a national charity based far away will also not be of interest to us.
Feasibility means looking at the design of the project or activity and asking, essentially, whether it is likely to work. Does it explain convincingly how the resources, activities and outputs from the project (i.e. the things that it will create, develop or organise, such as leaflets, workshops, training sessions or products of some kind) will achieve the intended outcomes?
This is often referred to as a ‘theory of change’ or a ‘logic model’. Whatever it’s called, though, a convincing argument for why this project is the right one to achieve the desired change is essential. And if it isn’t there or it doesn’t convince you, then you should think carefully about whether this project is the right one to fund.
So you’ve found a well designed and convincing project that looks like it has a good chance of achieving outcomes that lie at the heart of your organisation’s own strategic aims. Congratulations. Just one last consideration… capability. Can the people proposing the project actually deliver it on the ground? Do they have the skills, expertise and resources to undertake the various activities that the project will require if it is to be a success?
Some organisations are brilliant at ideas but, sadly, less brilliant at implementation. If we’re funding a project, we need to know that it is going to happen. So we need to consider things like the resources that the organisation will have available, the people who will be involved, the level of commitment that is demonstrated and, where possible, the organisation’s track record in its previous endeavours.
None of the three attributes of desirability, feasibility and capability are particularly difficult to assess. And if considered in turn, they can save time in appraising different projects, as they help you to progressively ‘weed out’ those that don’t meet your needs or don’t explain convincingly how they will deliver their intended outcomes. They also provide you with a clear – and defensible – framework for demonstrating how you have reached the difficult decisions that you will inevitably have to make as to what gets funded and what does not.