Overheads or investment? A new perspective on nonprofit “admin” costs

Guest blog post by Lee Durbin (@lddurbin)

In February this year a story broke about the appalling conduct of some of Oxfam’s staff in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, and there was understandable outcry. Channel 4 news spoke at the time with Sir Stephen Bubb, the former head of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo), and although it is worth watching the interview in full Sir Stephen begins by highlighting a challenge for donors in light of the Oxfam scandal: “Administrative overheads are completely crucial for delivering effectively on the front line”. Without such investment, he argues, charities cannot develop proper processes, procedures, systems, and checks that would more successfully guard against the behaviour that Oxfam was rightly criticised for.

This is a compelling argument, but what about the argument for investing in fundraising specifically? How do we convince donors that a charity’s fundraising “overheads” aren’t a necessary evil which detract from the causes they care about, but are instead crucial forms of investment enabling charities to perform greater good?

This is more difficult to sell to donors than the idea that effective safeguarding needs to be financed, but in the video I’ve embedded below the great Ken Burnett is quite right when he states that “we won’t achieve the revolution we need unless we’re prepared to invest”. Ken spends the previous 6 minutes demonstrating why this form of investment provides tremendous returns over the long term (I do recommend watching it, together with the other “lightbulb moments”). So why aren’t charities heeding this call?

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Ask a donor this December

The bustle of social events, shopping trips and family visits can make December pass by in a flash. Fundraisers are busy winding up their Christmas appeals and are perhaps even looking ahead to Valentines appeals, Spring newsletters and New Year supporter events. That feeling of relaxation once the holidays start (or the relatives head home) can seem like a distant memory once you’re back behind the desk in January. Time to do it all over again…

This perpetual busyness and churn is overwhelming and unhelpful. But equally, the intention of coming into 2018 refreshed and ready to shake things up doesn’t always work when you’re cold, miserable and your trousers are too tight.

If you’re anything like me, the best way to combat the January blues is to make a plan in December. This preparation allows you to completely switch off from work over the holidays, safe in the knowledge that you’ve got your list ready to work through when you return.

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Happy birthday to us!

Year one of starting my own business is done and dusted! What did I get myself into? I have never read so many books, blogs, articles and research papers, nor drunk so much coffee and wine in any other year in my career.

I have also never spent so much time listening to alumni, donors and volunteers share their thoughts on what they enjoy about giving and what needs to change. There is plenty to celebrate in our industry, but also lots to be done if we want more of our audiences to become proud advocates. The good news is they are more than willing to help us.

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