How to win the overhead battle

by guest blogger George Crankovic

Keeping overhead costs low has become a goal in itself for too many nonprofits. There are lots of reasons for that, not the least of which is somedonors use low overhead as a shorthand way of evaluating charities.

But let’s put that aside and get down to brass tacks — what can you do if your overhead isn’t low? Are you condemned to the status of “bad” nonprofit? Do you simply resign yourself to the fact that the battle is lost? Not necessarily.

Because the best way to win this battle is not to fight it.

You just have to accept the fact that some donors pay undue attention to overhead costs. Don’t even try to change their minds. You won’t be able to. On the other hand, you also have to understand that it’s unrealistic to be expected to pursue your mission without ever spending any money. It takes an investment to make an impact.

So focus on the impact. Donors will be far less likely to worry about overhead costs if your nonprofit is generating amazing results and — even more important — if you’re communicating those results robustly to your donors, like this:


  1. Your newsletters burst at the seams with success stories.
  2. Your website brims with videos showing your people doing good and generating results.
  3. Your appeals trumpet not only the problem you’re trying to solve but also exactly what your donors’ gifts accomplish, as demonstrated in a clear, specific offer with (ideally) a dollar value attached to it.
  4. Your blog raises issues your donors care about and gives them the opportunity to take part through online petitions and other involvement strategies.
  5. Your social media is all about how your people are taking action in the field, including their challenges and successes.
  6. You communicate with your donors all the time — just as a partner naturally would — instead of falling into the trap of believing that your fundraising is an intrusion.

When you put your attention on results, then your donors’ attention will likely go there too, away from what you spend on being efficient and good at what you do. Which is good. In essence, being results-focused is just another way of being donor-focused. And that’s why you’ll discover something else too. Your fundraising will become far more effective, and you’ll probably be raising more money than ever before. Which is also good.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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