To the editor:
One of the most recurring comments I’ve experienced in the many years I’ve been involved in community-based outreach is the concept that volunteering for a direct relief agency or activity is better than donating money to a non-profit that utilizes a large percentage of donated dollars for salaries. Sound familiar?
It’s a common sentiment but I’ve learned that it is also a flawed one.
All non-profit organizations and non-governmental agencies that deliver services to marginalized populations must budget dollars to operate with.
Donating to programs — the processes, people and resources to directly impact those served — is far more popular than donating dollars to handle general operating expenses. In fact, even many of the wealthiest donors use a core metric to evaluate a non-profit organization, and that is the ratio between donated dollars and what percentage of those dollars are allocated to programs.
If you are willing to step outside the box a bit, though, you might be convinced of the truth about the struggles of many non-profits, which is that they’re working with insufficient capital most of the time.
Help, we’re sinking!
In the field of philanthropy this is known as the cycle of non-profit starvation (among other academic terms).
Let’s say that you are truly passionate about a social justice cause that is directly addressed by a non-profit organization. Certainly, you can donate dollars with the expectation of, or direct request of, funding only programs.
But there is a golden opportunity to direct those dollars to overhead, staff and the less-than-sexy aspects of the organization so that your dollars are “leveraged” to maintain and hopefully also increase the organization’s mission.
There are donors and sophisticated grant-makers that understand this concept. They intentionally direct dollars for leverage by requesting the funding of office space, computers, web design and build-outs, and even training programs for staff and leadership.
Some donors whose passion and vision are well aligned with a non-profit organization they’ve researched will even take an “unrestricted” approach, meaning that dollars are to be allocated toward supporting the organization’s infrastructure at the discretion of management.
Consider the value of donating to overhead instead of programs. In many cases you will be able to create more good by empowering organizations to be financially stable to exponentially perpetuate the good they do.
Now more then ever with the COVID-19 crisis, non-profits need our help.