0% to programs: another offer worth trying

Last week, George Crankovic posted here an exploration of the 100% to program offer.

It’s a controversial issue in our industry (though not among donors), and I want to look at it in a different way.

The 100% to program model does not mean (and should not claim) that there’s no overhead. It merely states that someone else has covered that part of the cost of the charity, so you don’t have to.

That’s music to some donors’ ears. You may think their opinion on the matter is ill-informed (it is, in fact), but you aren’t going to change their belief via a direct mail piece.

In fact, the 100% model is a more transparent message about overhead than most fundraising: It admits that overhead exists! Check out Charity:water’s description of their 100% model. They give their overhead-funding partners public recognition. The whole topic is out in the open…

Unlike standard fundraising, which has an unstated approach to overhead: When you respond to this offer, your money will go to the activity described here and to overhead expenses. Like it or lump it! Fortunately, many donors “like” it and give.

But studies show that versions of the 100% model can significantly increase response. That should get your attention. Unless your organization’s mission is to educate people about the importance of nonprofit overhead, or you have a problem with too much revenue.

I think it behooves any responsible fundraiser to at least consider the 100% model.

And while you’re at it, how about the 0% model?

If you’re going to let some donors off the overhead hook, why not entice other donors with the chance to fund overhead only?

If you think about it, overhead is a much better deal. It may not be the direct action, but it makes the direct action possible. Better yet, overhead has an innate return on investment — a little but spent on overhead has a large impact on the cause (assuming a well-run organization).

Sounds like a decent fundraising offer, does it not?

Of course, if you’ve spent more than a couple of weeks in fundraising you’re probably saying That would never fly!

You’re probably right. It’s way too complex to do well in direct mail, email, or any other one-to-many fundraising medium.

But it might work with major and near-major donors. People you have actual human relationships with and can talk about stuff over coffee.

Make the pitch: How would you like to fund the single most important part of our budget, the part that makes literally everything else we do possible?

It’s not for every donor. In fact, it’s not for very many donors at all. But it’s magic to someone. Just as the no-overhead offer is to others.


Comments

8 responses to “0% to programs: another offer worth trying”

  1. I think donors should be able to decide how much of their donation goes toward overhead. Sort of like a tip. Fifteen percent is what’s recommended. They can give more or less.
    In fact, they’ll probably give more based on how well the nonprofit explains the need for overhead, how well they use the money, and the results/impact they deliver.
    If the nonprofit satisfies the donors’ needs, they’ll win— and so will the donors.

  2. I think donors should be able to decide how much of their donation goes toward overhead. Sort of like a tip. Fifteen percent is what’s recommended. They can give more or less.
    In fact, they’ll probably give more based on how well the nonprofit explains the need for overhead, how well they use the money, and the results/impact they deliver.
    If the nonprofit satisfies the donors’ needs, they’ll win— and so will the donors.

  3. I fear the more we play this game, the more folks will continue to believe that having overhead is a “bad” thing. If some charities tell donors 0% of their gift goes to overhead (because the overhead got underwritten), then everyone else feels they have to do the same to be competitive.
    But… it’s really just a trick. A bit of smoke and mirrors. And if that charity (yes, that includes Charity: Water) is asked what percentage of their budget goes towards overhead, they still have to answer truthfully. And the answer won’t be 0%
    If my money goes 0% to overhead only because somebody else’s money went 100% to overhead, IT DOESN’T CHANGE THE FACT OF OVERHEAD’S EXISTENCE.
    I realize you can’t educate donors through direct mail. But perpetuating the overhead myth doesn’t really help the sector as a whole. I’d like to see us all stop playing these games, hoping that over time the charity watchdogs shift will ultimately lead us all to a place where overhead is appreciated for the “Bang for the Buck” it truly offers.

  4. I fear the more we play this game, the more folks will continue to believe that having overhead is a “bad” thing. If some charities tell donors 0% of their gift goes to overhead (because the overhead got underwritten), then everyone else feels they have to do the same to be competitive.
    But… it’s really just a trick. A bit of smoke and mirrors. And if that charity (yes, that includes Charity: Water) is asked what percentage of their budget goes towards overhead, they still have to answer truthfully. And the answer won’t be 0%
    If my money goes 0% to overhead only because somebody else’s money went 100% to overhead, IT DOESN’T CHANGE THE FACT OF OVERHEAD’S EXISTENCE.
    I realize you can’t educate donors through direct mail. But perpetuating the overhead myth doesn’t really help the sector as a whole. I’d like to see us all stop playing these games, hoping that over time the charity watchdogs shift will ultimately lead us all to a place where overhead is appreciated for the “Bang for the Buck” it truly offers.

  5. I do not understand this “overhead” vs. “non-overhead” controversy. Do staff salaries contribute to overhead, if they are the ones implementing the programs? Are the only things that go to the “programs” things like pencils and paper, for a tutoring program? Or is that overhead? I have no idea about the distinction of these terms and I think donors are very confused as well.

  6. I do not understand this “overhead” vs. “non-overhead” controversy. Do staff salaries contribute to overhead, if they are the ones implementing the programs? Are the only things that go to the “programs” things like pencils and paper, for a tutoring program? Or is that overhead? I have no idea about the distinction of these terms and I think donors are very confused as well.

  7. I wholeheartedly agree, Claire!

  8. I wholeheartedly agree, Claire!

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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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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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