Five Donor Misconceptions That Thwart Mission
Charities are organized for public benefit, and most of them survive on the goodwill of people like you. Donors and volunteers are fundamental to their ability to operate. After working with non-profits for more than 10 years, I’ve encountered several commonly-held beliefs of donors that, while originating from good intentions, can actually hinder the mission of charities.
1) He’s making what??? Every once in a while, we hear a public outcry about the salary of an executive at a large charity. Certainly, there may be instances where the salary is simply inappropriate, but large charities need well qualified, competent executives who can lead an organization in a way that maximizes their reach and impact. While the concern is that donations are used for cushy salaries, money spent compensating truly good leadership should mean that your dollar goes further. Note: Within charities, the board of directors is responsible for researching comparable salaries, setting the salary range, and approving the overall budget.
2) Shouldn’t they want to do more? The majority of staff at non-profits are underpaid for the work that they do, and they are often expected to fulfill multiple full-time roles. While I was directing a non-profit that required evening and weekend work (on top of the regular work week), I was often surprised by the expectation of supporters that I should want to or be willing to do even more because I was working for a good cause. The reality is that many good-hearted people work for charities, they are constantly faced with great needs, and they do much more than what is required of them.
3) Who needs the lights on? There’s a general rule of thumb for non-profits in the U.S. that administrative costs should be right around 10% of the total budget. From a donor’s perspective, yes, that sounds like it maximizes benefit to the people being served. The reality is that it may not be. The ultimate goal is to maximize the mission and reach of the organization. If budgeting 20% for strong infrastructure means a charity can provide high-quality services to a larger group of people, that’s a good thing!
4) Isn’t it about me? People want to feel good about donations of their money and time. A good charity will understand that and will align their efforts to help donors and volunteers know that they are doing good. Sometimes, however, the greatest needs of a charity are not those that produce warm fuzzy feelings. I would meet prospective volunteers and, regardless of their skill set, most wanted to work directly in programs. We found an administratively strong volunteer who committed to one day of donation processing each week. She did an incredible job, and her work strengthened the foundation of the organization and freed resources to be spent on programs that helped kids.
5) Why wouldn’t they want my stinky old shoes? I’ve received some very interesting in-kind donations from very well-meaning people… the equivalent to dirty, stinky, ratty shoes. Most charities welcome in-kind donations, just be sure to ask what the charity needs and try to donate “gently used” or “like new” items, which will uphold the dignity of the people on the receiving-end of your donation.
One of my former board members helped me understand that within a charity, everyone needs to stay focused on the mission of the organization, over their own egos and over their own agenda, in order to achieve the greatest good. That same concept applies to donors and volunteers. Keep a focus on the mission of the organization. Maybe at times, that mission is best achieved by a highly paid leader, by allowing for higher administrative costs, or by giving your time or money to something that is boring but necessary. Your favorite charities cannot survive without the devotion and commitment of many people like you!
-Lindsey Markelz, CEO & Co-Founder