by Kirk Walden, Publisher of The LifeTrends Connection
The discussion Ellen Foell initiates elsewhere in On the Leaderboard is an important one for all of us because it reminds us of the fact that in a sense, many pregnancy help organizations (probably the vast majority) are likely unknowing participants in The Overhead Myth.
For most non-profits in our sector, we look closely at those administrative and development costs, wary of going over a certain percentage of our overall expenditures. Is the number 20%? Is it 15%?
Regardless, we try hard to avoid giving the perception that we are spending a large portion of our income on non-client related services such as fundraising, salaries and staff who are not directly connected to our clientele.
There is a good reason for this. Stories of non-profits and ministries that have abused the public trust by shoveling outrageous amounts into the hands of the organizations’ leaders, spending large portions of money simply to get more income (while leaving behind those who the organization is designed to serve) abound.
As a result, foundations to which we are writing grants, and major donors, tend to look closely at our administrative expenditures. And with the web, in the last ten years many more who are considering giving to us can quickly look at our 990 forms and may make a funding decision based at least partly on these figures.
The fact is, while most pregnancy help agency boards have never considered “The Overhead Myth” or sat down and asked “How much is too much” for our administrative and fundraising costs—we are all wary of going over the line with these expenditures.
The bottom line is, we do not want to be perceived as wasting our donors’ hard-earned gifts.
Under Investing ≠ Overly Wise
To all of us in this movement, we must be wise stewards of every dollar that comes into our organizations. But . . . if we get caught up in fretting over percentages and perceptions, we could miss God’s best for our centers, maternity homes and adoption agencies.
The fact is, it costs money—big money for many of our organizations—to send our entire staff and board across the country for an event such as Heartbeat International's Institute for Center Effectiveness this Dec. 9-13 in Columbus, Ohio. And if we do, much of that expense will fall under “administrative” costs.
It also costs money to bring in that consultant or trainer to upgrade our development plan, to implement a powerful event or to walk us through the steps necessary to better connect with and envision those who partner with us financially. This one falls under fundraising.
For some of our organizations, the two “expenses” listed above might cause us to recoil a bit because we ask, “What about the clients we see? Can’t we spend that money on them instead of on us?”
And this is where we find the trap. We begin to see dollars spent as “expenses” and worry about whether our donors would appreciate their money going toward a trip to Columbus for our director. Or, we fret over spending money just to raise more . . . money.
If we fall into this trap, we can miss the big picture. A wise board and staff understands that every dollar spent should ultimately be an investment in our clients—whether it falls on the 990 form as “Administrative,” “Fundraising,” “Services” or anywhere else.
Stretching Your Donor Dollar by Investing in Leadership
An investment of in-depth training for board and staff should, in the end, provide a powerful return for our clients with more effective services, a larger vision for the impact we have on their lives and more.
Why? If we are investing in training our board, this group is better equipped to lead the ministry through future changes and growth. If we are investing in our staff (let’s remember salaries at this point, too) we have less turnover, more consistency in service and stronger bonding among team members.
By the same token, an investment in our development/fundraising practices should provide a return in a greater ability to reach and serve our clientele.
While we need to watch our administrative and fundraising investments, an over-emphasis on percentages can be to our detriment. The questions we ask regarding these figures should be about the ultimate impact on clients’ lives, not about whether our 990 form might look odd or because our perception among donors is at risk.
My hope is that soon, we can look those who support us in the eye and say, “YES, we spent this amount on administrative costs, and on fundraising we stepped up our investments as well. Here are the reasons why, and here are the amazing results in the lives of our clients.”
Should we be watching our fundraising and administrative costs? Just like any other investment in our organization, the answer is an unequivocal “Yes.”
Should we then, be shackled by traditional “rules,” such as the idea that no more than 15 or 20% of our expenditures should fall under administrative and fundraising? While we all need wisdom in this, the answer is “Probably not.” Best practices in fact, may encourage us toward breaking such rules at times in order to ultimately best serve those who come in our door.
Kirk Walden is publisher of The LifeTrends Connection, a monthly e-newsletter geared to help pregnancy help leaders set, evaluate, meet, and enhance fundraising and development goals. Subscription to The LifeTrends Connection is an automatic benefit of affiliation with Heartbeat International. Kirk is also author of a recently released book, The Wall: Rebuilding a Culture of LIFE in America and Ending Abortion as we Know it.