Wayne McKenzie, Senior Fundraising Consultant in New Zealand, examined the challenge of raising funds for the “Home Office” function and staff. Why is it hard to raise money for these important resources? How can we change this? His solution: no one should work in administration in your non-profit. Read his advice to transform overhead into mission.
Why is it hard to raise money for overhead?
In most sectors, it would be considered irresponsible not to be well resourced and equipped to provide everything needed for the best possible outcome in each venture. Should we not have the same attitude and approach for the non-profit industry?
But every few months, a journalist decides to criticise charities for their spend on overhead and administration. They say that not enough gets to the people in need, implying the individuals in the administration are not important, and not a vital part of the work.
It’s often a ‘cheap shot’, lacking research or understanding. But it gets column space and airtime, and there are always a few callers on talkback radio with a negative experience to support it.
I wonder what would happen if we applied the same scrutiny to some things most of us willingly accept without question.
– All Blacks Rugby team. There are 15 players on the field, and up to 15 more sitting on the bench. Plus another 15 or more off the field as coaches, managers, a doctor, physios, psychologists, marketing and management.
– The military. The support crew vastly outnumbers the frontline troops. Without a good supply line, no army would survive.
– A Hospital needs more than doctors and nurses to function. Imagine the chaos and disorder without technicians, researchers, chefs, and cleaners, even management.
– Milk doesn’t come from a bottle or carton at a supermarket, but from a cow on a farm. It reaches our table because many different people are involved in the gathering, processing, delivery and marketing of it. Not to mention the farmer and all her or his helpers and suppliers.
In none of the examples above does anyone question the need for support services and personnel. We accept them as absolutely necessary and seldom question the cost or percentage of it.
So, is your admin just overhead, or a vital part of your mission?
No one should work in administration in your non-profit. Focus on the mission, not the money.
First, non-profit organisations would do themselves a favour not to refer to the Head Office as they do.
Let’s not call the work done there as administration – an expense that would be better avoided. Charities should not look to be as lean as possible, but as efficient, effective and ethical as possible. The focus should be on the mission, not the money.
I recently joined the Board of a non-profit involved working internationally. Raising funds for the “Home Office” function and its staff had been difficult. We held a workshop to examine this and came away with a new and much clearer understanding.
Three tasks to help transform your “overhead” or “administration” into a vital part of your mission
1. Discuss and explain how your mission would be affected by disestablishing your…
– Research team
– Communications staff
– Recruitment and HR people
– Customer or donor services team
– Fundraising personnel
– Board of Trustees
This can help crystallise people’s thinking and convince them of the real and actual need for each. Alter the terms to suit your organisation.
2. Choose a word that epitomises why your mission needs the “head office”. What is its key function in helping to fulfil your mission? Then organisation I joined recruits and sends people overseas. The word we chose is ‘mobilisation’.
3. Write a brief case to show how each function or department of your head office is vital to fulfilling your mission. We are now developing a case to ‘inform, recruit, equip and support’.
Without the skills, experience and dedication of the people involved in management, research, communication, recruitment and training, and fundraising; the workers who serve “at the front line” could not survive, and the people you serve would go without.
Following this exercise, the key role is now not perceived as administration but as mobilisation. Every function and every person are now seen to have a vital role to help fulfil the mission. No one works in administration. All work to inform, recruit, equip or support, to ensure the team on the field is fully staffed and functional.
In future, donors to the Home Office will not be supporting the administration but mobilisation.
Our fundraising consultants can help you develop your case and strategy, and raise more money for your important cause. Book a free consultation now.
Latest posts by Wayne McKenzie (see all)
- Why No One Should Work in Administration in Non-Profit Organisations - March 15, 2017
- Fundraisers, this is Why You Should Join a Non-Profit Board - November 10, 2016
- These 5 Books Can Help You in Your Fundraising Career (recommended by Wayne McKenzie) - June 8, 2016