On the way we think about non-profits

I am overhead.

If you work for any non-profit organization, it is guaranteed that one of the top 5 questions you have to answer relates to your admin costs. This question comes in various forms. The educated: “Tell me more about your organization’s funding structure.” The blunt: “So how much money ACTUALLY gets spent where its needed?” And the downright offensive: “How much do you make doing THAT?”

I also spend a lot of time fielding other ridiculous questions (“Does your CEO ride in her own private jet?”) and ridiculous statements (“I don’t donate because your organization funds abortions!”).  But admin costs are the biggie. Every year prior to our big fundraising push, an anonymous email circulates throughout our city, literately titled, “The Best and Worse Charities!”

Aside from featuring a truly remarkable abomination of the concepts of spelling and punctuation, the email is also one of those that remarks plaintively that 99% of people won’t forward it, which, in my opinion, is probably the only accurate statistic in the whole message.

It also has the nerve to call organizations that purportedly pay their executives a competitive wage “offenders”:

“Keep these facts in mind when “donating”. As you open your pockets for yet another natural disaster, keep the following facts in mind; we have listed them from the highest (worse paid offender) to the lowest (least paid offender).”

Honestly, I’m SICK AND TIRED of this attitude. And no, I’m not sick and tired because I sacrifice all of my worldly possessions, health, and sanity to help people by working in a non-profit. I have GREAT health care and benefits; my employer sees to that. I have had amazing training, experiences, and treatment because my workplace sees me as an asset, one which if invested in can bring back exponentially more to the organization, and subsequently, to those we serve.

Why is it that a millionaire who gained his wealth at the expense of others can be lauded as a philanthropist for making a charitable contribution to an organization, but a social worker at that organization who makes in a year what the millionaire makes in a few days can be criticized for even having a salary? Surely anyone who sets out the majority of their adult life to help those in need shouldn’t be rewarded! Surely there should be no incentive other than martyrdom to do this kind of work!

We need a paradigm shift. We need to start investing in non-profit the way we would invest in a business. We need to change the rules of the game so that there is incentive for the industry of helping humanity to grow and to innovate. Nobody makes this argument more succinctly and more convincingly than Dan Pallotta, who can be seen here in a TED Talk entitled “ The way we think about charity is dead wrong.”

If you have, do, or will ever give money to a charitable cause, I strongly encourage and downright urge you to watch this video. Watch this video, and read everything you can get your hands on about your organization of choice. And before your open your mouth, read the organization’s latest Annual Report. In its entirety, including the financials. If you want to invest your dollars – because truly, donating to a charitable cause is exactly that, investing in our collective future – you need to be just as informed as if you were making a business decision.

With this new attitude and in-depth knowledge, you will be equipped to invest your money in something you believe in. And believe me, the staff of that organization will love you for it.


P.S. Still don’t believe me? Read this article.

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