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Funding Charity Head Office: Take a Sad Song and Make it Better

I’m applying wisdom from Beatles’ lyrics to charity finances here.  Something new, after hearing a couple of sad songs about charities who were running deficits in their operating budgets.

Let’s start with an organization I’m intimately involved with – my family.  No matter what else is going on–university, saving for a big trip, fixing the roof–we put money aside each and every month to pay the bills.  You probably do too. Paying the electricity bill is not glamourous but everyone benefits from attention to that little detail.

Charities generally put some money aside from every gift they receive. In order to keep the lights on, they can’t spend 100% of donations helping puppies.  Charities call this something unexciting like administration or overhead.  It’s too bad they don’t see head office as part of the mission because that can lead to a bigger mistake.

In an emergency or disaster situation, the charity might be tempted to send 100% of designated gifts to that disaster.  They figure it wouldn’t be right for head office to benefit from the crisis.  This sounds short-sighted I know, but I’ve heard this same sad song more than once recently.

And it is a sad song because at year-end, the charity has an operating deficit.  They still bought stamps to send out thank-you letters to the emergency donors, still paid the auditor, the insurance and the electricity bill.  So, now they are in trouble.  Making an appeal for “overhead” is a tough sell.

Simple lesson here: don’t sabotage your charity in an emergency (or anytime really.)  You can’t spend 100% of donations on puppy food.  You will help more puppies in the long term if you are a thriving organization.  You want to have resources to screen and train volunteers, to host your website, and yes, to pay the electricity bill.

So, charity head office people, hear this: you are doing important work!  The charity simply wouldn’t exist if people didn’t raise funds, pay the bills and do all the other innumerable tasks behind the scenes.  Stagehands are part of the play and administrators are part of the charity. Value yourselves and your work.  Take a sad song, and make it better…

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