Inspiration from Under the French Fries

French fries with salt
Image courtesy of phasinphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Inspiration comes when you least expect it. While having dinner with my children at McDonalds, I was challenged by the verbiage on the tray liner. You know the tray liner – that piece of paper lining the tray that usually contains a special offer for an amusement park or a promotion of the latest McFood. But this time it was a statement about McDonalds’ corporate beliefs, starting with “We believe that when you say something people should be able to believe it.” They concluded with this statement: “To be the best company we can, we have to create the best opportunities. And we’d like to believe that some of the best ones around, are right here.

So here’s the challenge to us in the nonprofit community: do we offer our employees the best opportunities around? Do we invest in their training and development? Do we let them try new things? Do we listen to their ideas?

Many – maybe even most – of our employees took their current positions because they believe in the mission of our organizations. Sure, they need the paycheck but there are plenty of places to get those. Do we capitalize on their commitment to our organization?

Although we often blame ‘tight budgets’ for our lack of employee development, some opportunities are free. Even the opportunities that require some budget are worth it. By investing in an employee’s next step – through training and opportunities – we develop the next generation of nonprofit leaders.

Training and education
The nonprofit sector has a language all our own and some basic training will benefit employees at every level. Watch for web-based trainings, share interesting articles or invest in training from a professional association like AFP.

Opportunity
Find where their interests lie and let them work on a project, try out a skill or pitch in when things are exceptionally busy. Look for areas where your organization is lacking talent, social media for instance. Challenge an employee to become a specialist in that area by researching best practices in other organizations.

Feedback
One of the most valuable things you can provide aspiring leaders in your organization is honest feedback on their performance. Find places they can improve and be proactive in providing the opportunities needed to make those improvements. Don’t wait for annual reviews, provide ongoing feedback so your team can be constantly improving.

I have no idea what kind of workplace McDonalds truly is. But I’ve been in the nonprofit sector for over 25 years. Can the employees in the nonprofit sector agree with the statement on my McDonalds tray liner: “we have to create the best opportunities. And we’d like to believe that some of the best ones around, are right here“?

Don’t Confuse Overhead with Fraud

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Yesterday’s morning paper greeted me with a big headline about charity fraud. The Federal Trade Commission has filed a complaint against three national charities. I am pleased that action is being taken against charities who claim to make a difference in people’s lives but don’t. However, I fear that a national conversation will lead to confusion between overhead expenses and fraud.

If you missed the story here it is: Tampa Bay Times 
It was also on TV: CNN 

What are fraud and overhead? I like to start in the dictionary. Here’s how Dictionary.com defines them:
fraud – deceit, trickery, sharp practice, or breach of confidence, perpetrated for profit or to gain some unfair or dishonest advantage
overhead – the general, fixed cost of running a business, as rent, lighting, and heating expenses, which cannot be charged or attributed to a specific product or part of the work operation.

The charities in question claim that their high expenses are overhead. Charities need overhead, “fixed cost of running a business,” to operate. Staff must be paid. Buildings must be repaired. Fundraising activities must be conducted. I would urge everyone – nonprofit employees and board members, individual and institutional donors, regulators – to not confuse legitimate overhead expenses with the fraudulent practices at corrupt nonprofits.

As a career fundraiser, I am very aware that fundraising expenses are often maligned in these conversations. Many people say they want all of their donations to go directly to program support. That is not realistic. What if everyone said that? Nonprofits would not be able to operate without someone supporting the overhead expenses, including ethical fundraising activities.

In a written response to the action of the Federal Trade Commission against the three national charities, Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) President and CEO Andrew Watt stated, “These kinds of fraudulent organizations are not charities in any sense of the word, nor do they in any way represent the vast majority of charities that work tirelessly on a wide variety of causes.” I am a member of AFP and proudly adhere to the Code of Ethical Principles and Standards.

When making decisions about where to make a charitable gift, do your due diligence. Make sure that the organization is providing the program support it claims. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that any amount spent on overhead is bad. Those overhead expenses keep your favorite nonprofit operating and thriving. If you have questions about an organization, do some research before you give. There are resources online to help. The best way to learn more about a charity is to get involved – volunteer, take a tour, ask how you can best help.

Don’t let yesterday’s news deter the work of your nonprofit or your charitable giving. Never confuse fraud with overhead.

If you are interested in learning more about the Overhead Myth, check out these resources:
The Overhead Myth 
“The Way We Think About Charity Is Dead Wrong” a TED Talk by Dan Pallotta