The human face of overhead

I am overhead.  And I have been overhead for over eight years now.

I’ve been in charge of a direct marketing program.  I’ve participated in our board meetings, managed staff, and written fundraising strategies.

If you care whether you accidentally get two of a communication or not, that’s me.  I helped set up the database systems for our organization, set deduplication criteria, and worked to make sure our fundraising and outreach efforts run smoothly.

All of these are overhead.

When someone says they want to fund a mission or a cause, but not the overhead that goes along with it, they think they mean that they want to make sure nonprofit executives don’t fly to Gstaad on their private G6s.  

emirates-executive-lounge-area

Probably not the local homeless shelter’s board meeting. (Image credit)

What they actually mean, whether they realize it or not, is that they prefer that I and thousands of other people who work for nonprofits don’t exist.  No lawyers to sign our leases, defend our copyrights, and review our contracts.  No finance operations to make sure that every donor dollar is spent in accordance with policy and that all of the books balance.  No one on the other end of the phone to take a donation and talk with you about your monthly gift.  And no mail piece to ask you to give; you’ll just come to the Web site and do that on your own, right?  Not really, because Web software to accept and process donations is also overhead.

Not only do we need these, we want these (or, at least, we should).  Stanford Social Innovation Review said that nonprofits aren’t investing enough in these things and, as a result, are getting subpar results.

We transcend lean and mean; we are now emaciated and ticked off.

There are some lights in the wilderness.  The Ford Foundation, realizing that 10% was too little for overhead on its projects, has raised their limit to 20% And the initiative for the Overhead Myth is gaining some steam (although the irony of Charity Navigator being involved will be discussed later in the week).

But this is something we must address together.  As Ben Franklin said, “we must hang together or we will most assuredly hang separately.”

That’s why, even though they may work, I strongly encourage to remove your Charity Navigator four-star rating as a false badge of honor and for you to stop talking about the percent of your dollars that go toward your mission.  All of your dollars go toward your mission.  Some of them just take longer to get there.

The human face of overhead

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