Think bigger than your “overhead rate”

Once upon a time, I was a victim. A victim to the nonprofit overhead myth that as much money as possible should go to programs and anything spent on “overhead” or infrastructure was taking education away from the children of Africa.

I walked around with a 75 pound, 3 year old laptop, and every time I would lift it up, the battery would drop out of the bottom. This was especially problematic en route to meetings when I had my materials up on the screen just before presenting. I’d have to pop the battery back in, shift uncomfortably in my seat while the system booted up again and I opened my presentation back up. I eventually duct-taped the battery in which served me well until the entire system died.

Really? A duct taped computer? I wasted hours on that thing instead of just spending the $600 to get a new laptop!

I was a victim of the nonprofit overhead myth.

Which is why I’m thrilled to see this conversation making the rounds again and again.

I recently spoke at The Shift, a nonprofit incubator workshop, where I walked newbie nonprofits through creating a budget and pipeline for revenue and expenses. You can be sure I planted those seeds early that minimal infrastructure does not equal maximum programmatic impact.

I love Nonprofit Quarterly‘s shift in thinking about overhead as Core Mission Support, and I think it all goes back to the scarcity mindset. We feel like an investment in key infrastructure is taking away from programs and that there are limited resources out there for us.

Of course, we must be reasonable and responsible with our precious resources (none of Oprah’s “you get a car, and you get a car!” business) and focus on our impact, but let’s all commit to making a shift in mindset. Budget for what you need to be efficient – enough staff and equipment to run like a well-oiled machine. On the income side, don’t limit your fundraising goals either – instead of thinking “Oh, maybe we could raise $100k this year”, think instead of what you want to accomplish and develop a plan to get there.

The sky’s the limit, my friends! Go forth and invest!