Getting Over “Overhead”

Get over it.

Get over it.

Easier said than done! But in a recent workshop with Dan Pallotta – he of the famous TED Talk urging everyone to stop harping on the cost-to-raise-a-dollar issue and get on with saving the world – I learned a few tips that I’ll share with you here.

For those of you who haven’t seen the Talk, here are the Coles notes: Charities are forced to obsess about overhead and, as a result, are caught in a cycle that denies them the tools to raise enough money to solve the huge social problems they exist to address.

Not so in the private sector, where investment and capacity-building are rewarded; competitive salaries attract the best talent; and advertising is an obvious part of doing business – not a waste of funds that should go straight to feeding the poor.

1.  First of all, there’s no silver bullet. Everyone asked Dan for help with volunteers and donors who have an allergic reaction to the notion of “overhead.” His reply: It will take time to overcome the mentality that charities should operate on a shoestring. After all, this thinking has been in place for hundreds of years.

Lesson learned: Start with your board and key volunteers and show them the TED Talk. It’s a 10-minute investment that I have seen turn people’s thinking around (I now show it to my fundraising classes on day one to elevate their thinking about the potential of the social sector).

2.  Next, we all asked for an elevator speech that magically makes people understand how limiting the cost to raise a dollar limits the charity itself. But there isn’t one. Drat!

Lesson learned: You will need to have ongoing conversations with volunteers, donors and your own staff to introduce the concept that you need to invest in capacity if you want to make serious change in our world. Get a non-fundraiser to join in these conversations with you to avoid the risk of sounding self-serving because, in case you didn’t know, we fundraisers are also “overhead.”

3. Finally, it might be time to shift your OWN charity’s “charity case” complex. What are the organization’s real goals? Do you actually have plans in place to achieve your mission or are you just working towards getting 3% growth this year? In many ways, we are responsible for how charitable work is perceived. It’s time to get over the Bake Sale mentality of doing business in our sector and be more vocal about what’s really needed to get the job done.

– Siobhan
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About Siobhan Aspinall

About Siobhan Aspinall: I am a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE), passionate about the environment, social causes and surfing. I have been fundraising in Vancouver, Canada for over 20 years and love working with people who have a fear of fundraising. Call me for help developing a first-time fundraising plan, starting up a major gifts program, writing a case for support, or anything else that's keeping you awake at night! Please find me on linkedin and tell me what you'd like to see in future posts! : ) Photo Credit (sanddollar header): Minette Layne via Compfight cc
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2 Responses to Getting Over “Overhead”

  1. Jeff says:

    Great post!

    Here’s a fun question for readers & you: In your opinion do you think the AFP’s push / oath against commissioned based fundraising somewhat works against Dan’s point? In a world where we’re asking the public to view us by our impact and not overhead, but we refuse to allow fundraisers and or charities to structure rewards in a commissioned based manner because of an ideological opposition against it, it seems counter productive to the encouragement Dan gives in the talk. Are we willing to really compete, creatively finance and recruit talent based on that creative financing or are we more concerned about a few manipulating the system? Would love to see a conversation on how people see Dan’s talk “mixing” with the fundraisers “code of ethics”, specifically the commissioned based part.

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