Nonprofit Overhead: Learning Resources


Today, I am pleased to lead a discussion on nonprofit overhead, donor expectations, watchdogs, and fundraising ethics. The event will take place at Charlottesville's Center for Nonprofit Excellence (CNE) and is hosted by the CNE and the American Marketing Association's Central Virginia chapter. To further support that event's attendees - and for my wider community - I have collected the following resources on overhead, impact, and an illuminative case study.

I hope you will use these materials as fodder for your organization's internal considerations. If your team or peer group would benefit from a facilitated discussion of this important issue, please contact me by email or at 434.422.2209. I would love to help.

Presentation of Concept: "The Overhead Myth"

Why We Invest: Infrastructure and Impact

  • Nonprofit Quarterly reimagines the traditional expense pie chart and makes a visual case for overhead as core mission support in "A Graphic Re-visioning of Nonprofit Overhead."
  • Two articles from Stanford Social Innovation Review examine the issue from complementary strategic angles: 
  • BBB Wise Giving Alliance, GuideStar, and Charity Navigator recommend this Charting Impact Guide, which outlines best practices for understanding your organization's goals, strategies, and capabilities - and offers a model for communicating that essential information to funders. 
  • Guidestar also recommends Impact Calls to support consistent stakeholder communications. You can join a GuideStar impact call for inspiration and/or put their template to work for your organization.

Case Study: Wounded Warrior Project

It was nearly impossible to miss the Wounded Warrior Project's public relations nightmare in 2016. It began with CBS News and New York Times features, in which previous employees accused the organization of fiscal mismanagement, outrageous overhead, irresponsible spending, and weak programs. Over the next year, the Charity Defense Council sprang to WWP's defense, the Senate Judiciary Committee produced a critical 496-page report, and industry watchdogs delivered their own verdicts. Internally, WWP replaced its CEO and COO - and of this writing still suffers a serious decline in revenue. Though the news cycle has quieted, Wounded Warrior Project will be long at work recovering from damage to its reputation.

This case is extremely rich for learning across functions, and in particular executives, fundraisers, and marketers will gain much from studying it. Here's a starter-pack of materials for the endeavor.