Overhead Matters

March 19, 2016 § 1 Comment

Well, it has happened again. A high-profile charitable organization has come under fire for questionable spending, putting the entire charitable industry on alert. Earlier this year, the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) was hit with allegations of lavish spending on travel and and organizational events. Sadly, but predictably, this story has caused some journalists to scrutinize overhead expenses for all nonprofits.

As Dan Pallotta, founder of the Charity Defense Council, says, “Overhead expenses are necessary for raising funds for maximum program impact.” The preliminary response by the Charity Defense Council to the Wounded Warrior WWP story shows that, while the percentage of overhead expenses to fundraising results is higher than some other comparable organizations, the amount of money that they raised is so much greater, it is clear that the programmatic impact of that funding is huge. The data visualizations in the report bear this out.

Fundraiser Grrl speaks my mind:

When someone talks about how wasteful nonprofits are and how they spend too much on “overhead.”


This is about as articulate as I can get, sometimes.

If you’re in the nonprofit world, you should really be reading Fundraiser Grrl. It’s very cathartic. But I digress.

It’s unfortunate that the anecdote of questionable actions on the part of one organization will call into question the overhead spending practices for the entire nonprofit world. Certainly, the optics for the executives of the WWP are pretty bad, but in fairness, that should not shine a negative light on the rest of us.

But this is also an opportunity to bring to light some things about charitable work and fundraising that are often misunderstood.

Prospect Development Pride Month was started, in part, in response to situations like this. I could go on here about the value of prospect development, and the importance of overhead expenses to a successful nonprofit, but I have already done that, and my colleagues are doing it so much better. Just follow the #ResearchPride hashtag on Twitter, or search for it on Google, and you’ll see what people are saying, and you’ll find some really wonderful blog posts.

Also, check out the mission and “Five Functions” of the Charity Defense Council. Their work is helping me to better articulate the value of what I do for a living.

#IAmOverhead #ResearchPride



Prospect Development – it’s all about relationships

March 11, 2016 § 3 Comments

I am pleased to dust off this old blog, and join many of my esteemed colleagues in fundraising in observing Prospect Development Pride month. I can’t think of better inspiration to join the chorus of advocates for this profession.

The profession of prospect development is often misunderstood. One thing that many people do not realize about is that, at its heart, prospect development is about relationships. This is true even though we primarily work on the back end, rarely having the opportunity to interact with donors, and even while the introvert stereotype fits many of us (myself included). One of the fundamental areas of prospect development, as outlined in the Body of Knowledge of the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement (APRA), is relationship management. Yes, we focus a lot on technology and information. but those are just the tools we use to help manage the complicated and messy nature of human and institutional relationships. It is easy to forget this, even for those of us in the profession.

Prospect development professionals care deeply about those relationships, and we are invested in the success of the relationships of our donors with the institutions we work for. What we do in building and maintaining institutional memory will ensure that those relationships will thrive for years, and ensure that donors will continue to have a positive experience with their philanthropy.

The relationships with our front line colleagues are also important. I used to joke that in prospect research, we specialized in delayed gratification because we would gather information and write wonderful profiles on fascinating people, and then never find out what happened regarding their engagement. But when we work in partnership with fundraisers, there is a flow of information back and forth, a real synergy that benefits building successful donor cultivation strategy, and this is very satisfying. James Rygg’s Thank You Letter to Fundraisers echos my sentiments exactly. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with my front line colleagues.

One thing I often hear prospect development professionals say is that they love to learn. It seems to me that our relationship to the day-to-day work is one of love and respect. This field appealed to me at first because it felt like an extension of my work in graduate school. The subject was different, but the process was very similar. There are always new things to learn, whether it’s the fascinating distinguished alumni, the latest research resource, or a new information management tool. The constant challenge of learning keeps us engaged.

Of course none of this would work if I didn’t have a good relationship with my employer, if I didn’t feel passionately about its mission. I am inspired to go to work every day knowing that what I do effectively empowers young women to be thought leaders, entrepreneurs, and change makers. I feel privileged to work at Bryn Mawr College, an institution that is demonstrating the relevance of liberal arts in the evolving economy.

Finally, the community of prospect development professionals is truly second to none. I continue to learn so much and to be inspired by what I see my colleagues doing their organizations. Never have I encountered such generous professionals, willing to share their knowledge and experience, and mentor peers and those coming up in the field. One common trait among us is that we all seem to love to learn, and that opportunity never ceases in this field. We encourage that in each other.

Research Pride Month gives us the opportunity to “come out” as Helen Brown so aptly put, and educate those who don’t know what it is that we actually do. It also gives us the opportunity to remember why we love what we do, and take such pride in it.

Many thanks to Helen Brown for her leadership and starting Prospect Development Pride Month, and to all who helped organize it.


#Hungerfast: Speaking out against budget cuts on the backs of the poor

April 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

This past week, people around the country chose to fast in protest of the cruel proposed budget cuts that would impose an even harsher economic reality upon the most needy in this country. Those of us who have the privilege to be able to put food on our tables for our families chose to stand in solidarity for a 24-hour period, or sometimes more, with those in this country who are hungry. There are people struggling in our communities, making impossible choices of whether to pay for medicine, rent, heat, or food. Folks can’t afford to pay for all of the basic necessities, so while those with privilege can choose to fast, there are many who have no choice.

I participated from sunrise to sunset on Wednesday this week, joining my coworkers and friends at Feeding America. We have been spreading the  movement through social media, and personal/professional blogs like mine. Some have been critical of the fast, saying that it is a silly, meaningless gesture. Maybe in and of itself it doesn’t accomplish much more than a symbolic protest, but it does raise awareness and challenges people to think about their choices and responsibilities.

The reality is that having nutritious food should be a right, not a privilege, and as a nation we have a responsibility to close the gap for those who are food insecure.

For more information about hunger in America and in your community, visit Feeding America’s website. The Map the Meal Gap research is especially compelling, as it brings the reality of hunger into focus for all of us. People are hungry in your community. Take the time to understand the facts and what you can do to help.

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