Transparency: Overhead vs. Outcomes
As donors clamor for greater transparency from nonprofit organizations regarding the use of charitable support, the default tendency is to trumpet minimal overhead as good stewardship of donor funds. But is minimal overhead really the best stewardship of those contributions? Perhaps our focus is misplaced.
Some organizations, such as the American Red Cross, have built strong reputations on directing a high percentage of contributions to specific mission initiatives. While this approach serves some organizations well, more often it leaves others with underpaid staff and underfunded budgets, limiting the potential reach of the cause. Instead of seeking the best, some organizations must compromise for the cheapest.
I’m not advocating high overhead for nonprofit organizations. It is imperative to maintain careful consideration of use of funds for the greatest impact on those served through the ministry. Rather than champion the cheapest of charities, let’s shift our focus—and our language—from one of simply redirecting donor funds to leveraging those contributions for greater impact. Let’s talk outcomes.
If current donor support can accomplish X (number of people served, new ministry initiatives begun, etc.), how much more could be accomplished if donor support doubled? Tripled? To really inspire donors, don’t just double or triple your statistical numbers. Consider the broader, non-tangible benefits.
How can an organization control their transparency to the public? Instead of reporting how an organization spends donated support, you should know that donors are seeking greater impact—desiring to see the needle move on causes about which they care deeply. How are monies pooled together to address new needs, new areas of ministry that are reaching new people—or people in a new way? Sure, it may be that those gifts are used to fund a new position (thus, increasing the dreaded organizational overhead). But instead of focusing on the new hire, highlight the currently untapped work the new hire will accomplish, ways that work will broaden the ministry and how the ministry will be better positioned.