Request for “Measurables” Unreasonable?

November 1, 2010; Source: Herald-Tribune | What the city claims is the kind of question any donor should expect a beneficiary to answer has led to a stalemate over extending a property lease to a nonprofit sailing group in Sarasota, Fla. At issue is a request that the all-volunteer Sarasota Sailing Squad provide a list of “measurables” so taxpayers know what they get in return for a 25-year lease extension, without any increase, for a track of city-owned beach property.

The sailing club calls the demand unreasonable and plans to ask the City Commission to drop it. “It’s not rocket science,” said assistant city manager Marion Brown. “We’re not trying to be punitive here. We’re just trying to show the benefit to taxpayers.” Officials of the sailing club, which runs a Labor Day regatta and offers programs for youth, say they are puzzled by the request. “What additional measurables do they want to put into a lease that don’t already exist?” asked Alan Pressman, commodore of the squadron. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

The club rejected an offer from the city to extend the lease for 60 days to give both side times to work out a final deal. The sailing club said no out of fear that a change in the composition of the city council between now and then could result in an even less favorable deal. Brown said the club’s rejection of the offer was a surprise, adding that it was made “in good intention and good spirit to help them out.”

What do you think about this situation? Is it just one metric too far?—Bruce Trachtenberg


    Usually I’m the first to roll my eyes at requests for “metrics,” whose absence is often used as an excuse for denying nonprofits the funding they need; but what’s the problem here? Why can’t the sailing club say, “We offer sailing lessons to x number of Sarasota citizens each year” and be done with it? If they refuse to do something so straightforward, there’s reason to wonder whether it’s a private club masquerading as a city service, in which case public subsidy actually isn’t appropriate.

  • Patrick Bell

    The well-known maxim applies here: If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Part of the duty of care to the public trust is to manage your nonprofit appropriately to deliver the mission. Unless there’s more here than meets the eye what’s the problem with developing meaningful metrics? It’s somewhat embarrassing nonprofits don’t do more on their own and then complain when funders ask tough questions.