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The last couple days I’ve talked about charity salary levels and how, I believe, salaries and the “overhead myth”  issues are a two way street. Today I want to throw out some ideas to help change things, shift the conversation and work towards a brighter tomorrow (how cheesy did that sound…). I’d love to know your thoughts.

I joked with my former CEO that if I sat down at a cultivation meeting and “What is your overhead” was one of the first questions asked, I would simply pay for that person’s coffee say “Have a nice day” and walk out the door. I never really did that because I wouldn’t have a job and I would’ve been walking out of more doors than through them but the thinking was if you are so misguided on charity and why/how to give why should we waste our time convincing and educating you?

This is the thinking that led to the thought… originally proposed by re: charity favourite Dan Pallotta but gestating my my brain for months now… what if we created a organization (nonprofit perhaps…?) that only existed to educate the media, donors and the public at large about some key charity misconceptions and myths like compensation and overhead ratios? Mr. Pallotta suggested running full page colour ads in newspapers with nonprofit staff working wearing t-shirts that say “I am overhead” or maybe people charities help serve (marginalized, economically disadvantaged, underrepresented and so on) with signs behind them or shirts on reading “You didn’t help me because of 5%”. What about them apples.

Another thought is to work with a videographer and multiple organizations to go around to major donors, key fundraisers and charity executives to talk about what is considered “overhead” and how it is needed for growth and impact. We could interview some key philanthropists talking about the need for unrestricted giving. We could get people from the CRA and watchdog sites to weigh in on their actual stance and why. We can have the AFP weigh in. Even Steve Nash (my wife, American newly moved to Canada, has a theory that Steve Nash is the Canadian godfather because he has ties to everything… think about it…). Everyone who participated can share the video, post on websites, and use with their donors. We can approach the media and engage in a discussion about the real issues we face (wouldn’t it be neat to read an article written about how slaries aren’t high enough?.

We are looking for movement here folks. To use a Quote from Marrianne Williamson, “your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.” For too long we have shrunk. We have skirted the question hoping it wouldn’t catch up to us, complied with donor wishes and succumbed to our current reality. Let’s ruffle some feathers. Let’s shake things up a bit. Let’s have some real conversations. Let’s serve the world. Let’s be big.

Our salaries depend on it…joking…

What do you think? How do you help educate donors? Are these ideas too risky? Been done?

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  • hmm lots of thoughts sparked here, especially since i feel like i don’t know too much about charity overhead ratios and the myths and such you allude to.  i am probably pretty misinformed, or under-informed at least.  

    my pervading thought is that we have grown all too similar to the way the business world does things–seeing charity as a business with overhead and productivity and bang for your buck.  maybe not all of those terms exactly, but perhaps practically.  what if we gave money, not as a smart investment, based on numbers and jockeying for how charity a is more effective and better than charity b, but because God is actually speaking and prompting a giving and we are listening.  this perhaps has little relevance to the way things actually are, and may seem a little idealistic.  

    i think the question should be how do we turn the business-like practice of “giving” into more of an act of worship?

  • Anonymous

    To start something like that, it sounds like a whole lotta overhead…

  • bradyjosephson

    Haha. Nice. I was thinking, what if we set up the nonprofit to fight the charity ratios that had a wicked high “overhead” and we lost our status… I think that would be pretty cool. Shakin things up.

  • bradyjosephson

    Appreciate the read and comment former roomate. You bring up a good point that often gets missed, charities and charity is not business. Giving is different than purchasing. While there is much to learn from business and business practices, there are some key differences and the act of giving that you mention is one of them.

    I would disagree with you a bit on the smart investment. Giving should be heart, mind and soul. Too much of any of them and indepedently and we can get off track. I think one of the reasons we have not accomplished as much as we could in the last 50 years, with global poverty anyways, is too much giving because we feel good or feel bad or not using our mind enough.

    I have seen where people, myself included, use the “smart giving” as a bit of a cop out at times. The “I don’t know if this is really working so I won’t give”. It can be a very valid statement or a very poor statement.

    Good stuff.

  • Anonymous

    When I was looking for a job in the non-profit world I came across the epic battle for low admin costs. It is almost to the point where how much NGO’s operational %’s are almost more important then what they are doing. I ended up working for an organization that takes 0% for operation costs from project dollars.

    How? By raising operational and salary costs separately.

    If donors are already thinking of charities in terms of businesses – then we should be giving them a good return on their investment.  

    It’s easier to raise funds when we are able to tell donors – for every $1 you invest in operations it amounts to $5 for the field. It takes away the pain of hiding overhead costs for charities – and it eliminates the fear for donors that perhaps their donation is going somewhere they don’t know.

    “The ‘sexy’ giving is in tangible items.  
    No one wants to donate ink for the copier.”
    At least thats what I thought until I started fundraising under our system. Sure it is a little tougher – but once you gain some faithful donors who have caught on to that vision – they are faithful to give. And everyone knows the name of the game is for them to check of the “monthly” box on the donor form.

    Would like to see a blog on, “Building a strong team feeling for Charities who use remote employment” random I know – but there is very little written on this subject on the web….


  • bradyjosephson

    Ah yes, the good ol “100%” marketing gimmick. It is a good one. I covered it in more depth here I think it is a brilliant work around strategy for where we are at. People get blocked on this issue so let’s remove the barrier. Simple. It is a short term solution however and in some ways hurts charity in that it amplifies the notion that programs and overhead are seperate. That’s fundamentally wrong and charity will always be capped in its ability to do great things until we can make that right.

    Agree with you in positioning the leverage factor. The smartest donors are the ones who give to marketing, fundraising and salaries as that is truly how donations increase impact more than any other area. In the short term, having your closest donors give to “overhead” and your new and lower level donors give to programs is a great way to do things. I hope one day the need for this set up will be gone.

    That would be an interesting post. I myself work and manage a team remotely. It is quite difficult but I agree it would great to see get covered. How do you feel about writing one up and I can add to it? A joint post of sorts? Or I’ll take a stab and you comment. Thoughts?

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  • Oh!  I wish I had read this before writing my previous comment – it answers the question I posed there.  I like this idea.  One thing I think we need to try to incorporate is a way to cushion individual charities from backlash to it, though.  I left the fundraising world so I could say what I really thought without losing my job, or funding for my organization.  I think maybe this “rethink overhead” campaign needs to be spearheaded by a third party who is not trying to fundraise at the same time, so that they can be a little controversial, a little sensationalistic, without having it negatively impact their ability to do their core work.

    This, of course, begs the question – who will pay for it?  I don’t know that.

    I’ve been thinking lately of getting a little less diplomatic myself in my messaging, in the hopes that it will get more attention from people who don’t already think like I do.  Controversy sells, and the conventional media is selling the wrong controversy.  We could re-frame the debate to be just as sensasionalistic and interesting, while championing something worthwhile.


  • bradyjosephson

    Totally agree on the backlash. It would have to be an independant third party like a marketing agency or a non-profit that exists to defend and help all non-profits. As for who will pay for it… good question. I wonder if we could crowdfund a project from nonprofit workers and on-side donors. Take pledges from $5 to $5,000 in a Kickstarter type of way. Could be neat.

    Controversey does sell and I think something controversial some people like you is what it will take to help us all move forward.