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Doing More with Less? Why Not Spend Intelligently?

Does your faith-based charity believe in doing more with less?

My Russian Mennonite community has a famous cookbook entitled More with Less: suggestions by Mennonites on how to eat better and consume less of the world’s limited food resources.

It is an excellent book and I have enjoyed making many of the recipes. Over forty years old now, it was a prescient call against our overly consumerist society. I have a great deal of admiration for the creators of this book. It has shaped my values and the values of many of my friends.

There are many places where we can reduce, reuse, and recycle.

HOWEVER.

This orientation towards conservation and reduction can cause significant damage in other areas of life. As a non-profit consultant who works regularly with smaller, often faith-based, organizations, I see this attitude frequently.

There is a strong belief amongst some non-profits that it is better to save money than to spend it; that good stewardship means reducing expenditures rather than investing well.

One charity I know well recently lost their primary fundraiser. There was no ill-will in the departure, simply time for the individual to move on. The charity is in the midst of a large capital campaign and has significant needs ahead. Concerns about cost-cutting have led them to decide against replacing the fundraiser. Rather, they are shifting more responsibility to existing staff.

Can they accomplish more with less? They will likely discover it will be less with less.

For many missions, asking staff to do more is perceived as acceptable, or even necessary. But existing staff may well burn out, which will put the charity in a deeper hole.

Am I surprised? Not really. One of the challenges of many smaller faith-based organizations is an aversion to spending money. The thinking goes that this is ‘God’s money’ and we can’t spend it on more staff or better pay. It must all go directly to the mission. Unfortunately, this is short-sighted thinking which will ultimately impede fulfillment of the mission.

If you are a Board member, I encourage you to consider one key question when talking with your Executive Director or senior fundraiser:

Are you spending enough money?

Followed by: Are you adequately staffed to achieve success? Do you have the professional development, the outside support and the technology required to succeed? And if not, how can we possibly expect success?

Growing up in a “more with less” culture,  questions such as this don’t come easily for me. But I have seen the damage done by Boards who are more concerned with reducing costs than creative thinking or investing for growth.

I am all for necessity being the mother of invention, but not when it is code for preventing talented staff and the organization from achieving their potential, or when austerity, rather than the mission, becomes the focus.

The business axiom ‘It takes money to make money’ also holds true in charities. As Global CEO Guy Mallabone often says, ‘money drives mission’. This is true on both the revenue and the expense sides of the balance sheet.

Intelligent spending doesn’t mean overspending. It is investing in ways which ultimately grow the mission. So, how can investing more money support your mission?

  • Add a key staff person so your Executive Director can be most effective and strategic. You’ll retain high quality staff and avoid burnout.
  • Increase your focus on donor love and ensure donors feel very well cared for.
  • Improve your database, create greater accuracy, efficiency, and, most importantly, better relationships in your donor interactions.
  • Produce stronger communication materials, giving donors a clear sense of their potential impact through your mission.
  • Perhaps most significantly, increasing the advancement budget tells your staff they are valued, which prompts loyalty and commitment.

It usually costs less to retain and motivate an existing donor than to attract a new one. For most organizations—and especially those which are sustaining losses or achieving modest net gains in gifts and donors—taking positive steps to reduce gift and donor losses is the least expensive strategy for increasing net fundraising gains.

Let’s change the ‘more with less’ mindset.  We can accomplish so much more if we invest in success.

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2018 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report, A Project of the Growth in Giving Institute, Bill Levis, Ben Miller and Cathy Williams, April 12, 2018 http://afpfep.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/2018-Fundraising-Effectiveness-Survey-Report.pdf