“If you were facing a seriously medical condition, would you choose the most effective doctor, or the cheapest?” This was a question raised by David Miller of The Denver Foundation at the Partners in Philanthropy luncheon in mid-November. The point that he was trying to make was all about the nonprofit “overhead myth.” More often than not, the general public judges a nonprofit by its overhead rate – how “efficiently” it uses its funds – rather than how effective it is at achieving its outcomes. David’s point is a good one. Truly, I’d rather support an effective nonprofit than one that is focused on trying to operate on a nimble, unrealistic budget. The latter will lead to staff burn-out, turnover, and a general inability to stay focused on the organization’s mission due to a lack of focus.
David went on to make several other points, all of which are well captured in this article. As we are all about to recover from a few days of overstuffing ourselves and expressing gratitude, let us remember that we can 1) all be a philanthropist; 2) there is no right or wrong way to give; and 3) getting outside of our comfort zone can be challenging but rewarding. I vividly remember my first foray into the nonprofit sector: I went to a homeless shelter outside of Washington, DC to help the residents develop their resumes, draft cover letters and prepare for job interviews. The first time I walked into the shelter, I was nervous – and it showed. When the residents turned around to look at me, I was certain that their heads were filled with cynical thoughts about how I could help them. I continued to go back, week after week, and it didn’t take long for me to receive a warm greeting from everyone when I walked through the door. It became the best part of my week. And it led me to a path where I chose to leave the private sector to work for, run, support and continue to counsel nonprofit organizations across the U.S. I have never looked back, and I am incredibly grateful for all of it.