5 Things That Nonprofits Need to Do to Change the Overhead Conversation

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5 Things That Nonprofits Need to Do to Change the Overhead Conversation

For this special edition of 5 Things Friday, I sat down with CNM President Regina Birdsell to talk about overhead, what funders need to know about the work we do, and what role nonprofits should play in finding a solution. The following is a synopsis of her thoughts. Listen to the whole conversation here.

1. Push back.
If funders really think the work is important, why are we talking about how cheaply we can do the work? It’s time we start talking about smart investment in real solutions. Ask yourself – would you prefer to fly in a plane that was made using the cheapest parts or the highest quality parts?

2. Know that making a difference isn’t cheap.
When it comes to positive and lasting impact, cost should be one of the last things we talk about. (I happen to think the traditional logic model is built backwards, but I’ll save that for a different blog). But talk about money we must. So let’s have a respectful conversation about real costs. Let’s partner. Let’s build a relationship that is strong enough to handle constructive conflict and a real dialogue about what each side is willing and able to do to make a difference.

3. Be brave.
Stop pretending there isn’t a power dynamic between those holding the purse strings and those with their hand out. You have to be brave enough to stand up and say, “This is what I want to accomplish and this is what it will take to get there. Are you in or are you out?”

4. Be willing to talk about what we aren’t going to do.
If the money isn’t there, the project/program/service is going to have to look different. It’s not fair to be asked to do the same things and expect the same results without the proper resources. Everyone loves to talk about sustainability and building reserves and doing the work efficiently, but how is that supposed to happen without proper support? Nonprofits are so used to saying they will do more for less and it’s not healthy for us, for the funders, or for the community. It’s unacceptable. The problems are big, the challenges are important, and we need to take it seriously that it takes funding to get this work done.

We regret to report that we are unable to share Thing 5.
We only have enough funds to cover four things.


Interested in hearing more about real costs? Join us for our 501(c)onference, where Fred Ali (Weingart Foundation), Ken Berger (Charity Navigator), and David Greco (Social Sector Partners) will come together in a “Shark Tank” type forum to talk about overhead.

Want to hear the whole conversation with Regina? Click here or below.