Fiscal sponsorship is a complex yet innovative practice in the nonprofit world. According to The National Council of Nonprofits “a fiscal sponsor is a nonprofit organization that provides fiduciary oversight, financial management, and other administrative services to help build the capacity of charitable projects.” Fiscal sponsorship is a unique and effective way to build capacity, and every provider of fiscal sponsorship has their own specific approach to providing these services.
TSNE focuses on fostering transparency in providing these services. Through our application process we take every aspect of an applicant into consideration. In this blog post, we explain how we created a transparent application process. We hope that this will provide applicants a clear understanding of who they will meet, what information is needed, and what to prepare for.
About Fiscal Sponsorship at TSNE
At TSNE, we offer model A and model B fiscal sponsorship (more information can be found here). The first step to fiscal sponsorship is completing our inquiry form. A member of the Client Intake team reviews all inquiries and sends a link to complete a quick eligibility survey. The survey goes through TSNE’s current eligibility criteria to ensure that the clients who are reaching out are eligible for our services.
We approach the question of eligibility by determining if an organization’s mission aligns with our organizational values. We also use a set of legal and administrative criteria that help us decide what we can fiscally sponsor. Deciding what we can fiscally sponsor can be complex. This means that we decide what activities our insurance can cover, what our staff capacity is, and how our contracts team can support each organization that reaches out to us looking for fiscal sponsorship.
One of the items that we look at is what type of activities the potential applicant is participating in. What is their mission and how do they approach it? Does a potential applicant have the resources that they need to do the work that they want to do? How do they envision their leadership and what support does their leadership need? Throughout the application process, TSNE evaluates risk—not so that we can decline an organization but so that we can better get an idea of the organization’s full picture. One question that we’re often asked is whether funding is required to be an organization fiscally sponsored by TSNE and the answer is, at this time, yes.
The First Intake Call
If eligible, at the end of the survey applicants receive a link to book a phone call with a member of the Client Intake Team where an intake call happens. During that call, clients learn more about what fiscal sponsorship with TSNE looks like to see if our services provide what they are looking for. We also ask organizations to answer some basic questions about their size including if they have staff, a board, and what their funding and budget size is. If the organization is still interested after the initial screening, they are invited to formally apply.
The Application and Interview Process
The current application has close to 100 questions, so we send a PDF of the application along with the link to complete this online. This is the official start of the application process. We strive to be as transparent as possible with the questions that we ask while giving the reason why we ask them. We also recognize that 100 questions are a lot to ask mission-based organizations—especially smaller ones with limited staff or ones comprised of all volunteers. We strive to cut down on the questions that we ask–and the ones that we do ask, giving the ‘why’ behind it.
As mentioned earlier, this is mostly to understand the exact work that an organization is doing to ensure we have enough insurance, staff coverage, and mission alignment. We recognize that this process is long and can feel almost like an application for a grant—but it is different from that. Having a set list of questions also ensures that all non-profits who apply are going through the same process and allows us to be able to reflect on where improvements to the process can happen. Once an application comes back, TSNE’s internal team reviews it. The team consists of the client intake manager, assistant general counsel, the associate director of human resources, and the fiscal sponsorship director. They review the application materials and compile a list of questions that they would like to ask the potential new fiscally sponsored client about.
This usually includes further information about programming and clarifying expectations about their organization’s partnership with TSNE. Once the potential client receives these questions from TSNE, they book a time to meet with TSNE’s internal team to answer questions in real-time as well as ask their own questions. Again, included as part of this process, we include the ‘why’–why is TSNE asking for further clarification on specific items. The ‘interview’ process is not meant to feel like ‘the hot seat’ or with judgement on programming.
An important piece to keep in mind is that at no point is an application considered binding—meaning an application could be declined or withdrawn at any time by either TSNE or the applicant. Withdrawing an application can happen if, from the applicant’s side, they are envisioning a different approach to Fiscal Sponsorship or realize it’s better for them to become their own 501(C)3. If an application is denied, this usually happens for a variety of reasons. The most common reason for denial is when TSNE internal review team determined that the applicant has a greater need of support services than our model of fiscal sponsorship can provide. Other reasons include potential issues with the funding that an applicant has. Such as not having any type of funding when applying or not having secured funding, such as commitment letters from foundations or a larger funder.
TSNE Leadership and Board Review
If all the questions from TSNE’s side are answered and the internal team feels that the application is a good fit, it goes onto our senior team for review. This senior team reviews all applications—regardless of the acceptance. Once the senior team approves an application then goes for board review. Often times, applications that get to this stage, have a strong chance of being approved to be a fiscally sponsored organization by TSNE.
We hope that this further clarifies our process and look forward to answering more questions during our next Fiscal Sponsorship Q&A happening in November 2023! Sign up for the info session here.