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Characteristics and Practices of an Effective

Paul Rapoport


    Characteristics and Practices of an Effective Organization


As part of our strategic plan, the Rapoport Foundation committed to creating a document that will detail some of those characteristics and practices that we believe organizations should have in place in order to effectively serve clients and carry out their work. The Rapoport Foundation is committed to promoting the well being and empowerment of the LGTB community and believes that strong organizations are key to this well being and empowerment. The characteristics and practices listed in this document are recognized in the philanthropic community as ones that are necessary for sound organizations and are drawn from several sources including the Better Business Bureau, the Center for Effective Philanthropy and the Youth Development Institute.

The purpose of this document is twofold. First, it is to make clear to our grantees and potential grantees those components and practices that we deem as necessary for all strong organizations. Second, it is to add our voice to those in the philanthropic, social service, and LGTB communities who seek to promote strong organizations by setting certain standards for structure and operations. This document is not meant to exclude organizations or prevent organizations from getting funding; rather it is meant as a guide that will help organizations grow and become stronger. We understand that all organizations are different and may be at various stages of development and therefore at different stages of implementing particular program components. We also understand that the components and practices listed here will look different in each organization. By naming and describing these components and practices, the Rapoport Foundation hopes to encourage organizations, itself included, to build capacity and to continuously strive towards organizational strength, which in turn will reinforce our commitment to an empowered LGTB community.

The Paul Rapoport Foundation believes the following are some of the characteristics and practices of an effective organization:

I. Overall Organization

  • Has a clear mission statement that is known to its board, staff and clients and which informs all its programming
  • Has a written policy of inclusiveness concerning board, staff and clients
  • Has written policies for board, staff and clients prohibiting discrimination and harassment
  • Has all necessary Policies and Procedures manuals that are relevant to current programming
  • Has a current Strategic Plan and is pursuing it
  • Actively engages with the broader community through coalitions, advocacy efforts, etc.
  • Has written succession policies concerning the executive director, members of the board and key program staff
  • Has its own 501 (c)(3) Internal Revenue Service determination

II. Board

  • Board numbers a minimum of five voting members
  • Board includes representatives of the communities served by the organization
  • Board members are free from conflicts of interest regarding organization's staff and operations
  • Board exerts active oversight of the financial affairs of the organization
  • Board has as one of its main charges to fundraise for the organization
  • Client representatives sit on the agency's board

III. Staff

  • Staff is reflective of the population served by the agency
  • Staff has necessary qualifications and/or characteristics to run programs
  • There are written job descriptions that are current and if a new program is being launched, the necessary and appropriate staff requirements have been thought out and are delineated
  • Staff should have competitive salary and benefits packages
  • Appropriate and ongoing training is available to all staff

IV. Programs

  • Programs clearly fit within the agency's mission statement
  • Agency has investigated similar programs run by other agencies and can clearly state the need for its particular programming and what specific niche(s) it serves
  • Staff input has been sought when developing programs
  • Client input has been sought when developing programs
  • Specific program goals have been developed and results are reviewed regularly
  • Systems appropriate to the nature of the organization are in place to safeguard client confidentiality
  • Feedback is sought on a regular basis from staff, clients and community on whether or not current programs are serving their stated purposes
  • When appropriate, clients are connected to additional appropriate services
  • Data collection systems are in place to appropriately:
          Track client demographics
          Track client development/improvement
          Track program goals
  • Program has support from the community

V. Finance

  • Agency can supply accurate budgets (for both agency and program) and explain budget detail
  • Agency spends at least 65% of its total expenses on program activities
  • Agency spends no more that 35% of related contributions on fund raising
  • Agency has an accounting system adequate to its program needs
  • Agency files an annual tax return, or, if required, has an annual audit on a timely basis
  • Agency has a development plan adequate to its program needs
  • Agency has diversified its funding base
  • Fundraising efforts are in accord with the stated agency mission

Note: We recognize that many if not most of these recommendations are out of reach for startup organizations. However, we would recommend that mechanisms should be in place, or be in the process of development, to enlist suitable board members, ensure financial oversight, develop a budget, hire staff if appropriate, etc.

Additional resources for those interested in further developing their organization's effectiveness:

The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance,

Community Resource Exchange,

The Council on Foundations, Inc.,

The Center for Effective Philanthropy,

The Donors Forum of Chicago,

"Components of Organizational Support for Youth Development," Youth Development Institute, Fund for the City of New York,

"Model Standards Project for Creating Inclusive Systems for LGTBQ Youth in Out-of-Home Care," Legal Services for Children,

"Agency Readiness Index: A Self-Assessment and Planning Guide to Gauge Agency Readiness to Work with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth (ARI)," National Network for Youth,

New York State Office of the Attorney General,

Nonprofit Connection,

Support Center for Nonprofit Management,