At Big Brothers Big Sisters, we believe every child should have the opportunity to reach his or her full potential – both as individuals and citizens. We believe that by changing the course of young lives we can in turn be changing the course of a community’s future.
Start Talking is a place where we want to raise awareness of key issues that face today’s youth. We will sometimes advocate, sometimes educate, sometimes inform, sometimes ask questions and always invite discussion about the pressing concerns that involve the younger generations of today.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

I’m Overhead….and Proud of it!

‘70% of Americans believe that charities waste money, according to an NYU survey. Our goal is singular: within ten years, to have 70% of Americans believe the opposite.’ -Charity Defense Council

Perhaps one of the most frustrating questions posted to the leaders of charitable organizations is the dreaded ‘what is your cost of administration?’ For at least a decade it seems that a series of factors have been leading Canadians to a place where the percentage of funds spent on infrastructure is the sole determinant of the value of a charitable organization.

From exposes on copycat charities to instances of obscenely high costs of fundraising to a genuine desire to delineate between the 80,000 charitable organizations in Canada, people have been trying to create a common measure for comparison. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the pendulum has swung too far.

‘Cost of administration’ simply cannot be the only criteria used to assess the value of a charity.

Should charities have measures in place to show transparency and accountability as stewards of contributed funds? Absolutely. Audits from credible firms, checks and balances relating to internal processes, high functioning Finance and Audit Committees etc. all form part of a system that demonstrates professional management and provides reassurance to donors and sponsors.

But what if it takes more than 15% to provide a quality service that is making a difference and fulfilling the mission? Should not the need, quality and outcomes warrant a deeper conversation about whether a charity is responsibly delivering on its mission? Organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters are counting on it.

The emerging belief, that spending more than 15% on administration, is one of the most dangerous, long term trends to have emerged in decades. It undermines the ability of organizations to have the necessary resources to deliver quality programs. It creates a climate where charities accept ‘bad deals’ for funding simply because it is the only deal available. In the long run, it will negatively affect the capacity of organizations to attract and retain talent, ensure that corners are not cut in program delivery and ultimately achieve the high quality outcomes that society has come to expect.

The time has come for the sector, collectively, to speak out and attempt to stem this ongoing conditioning. Overhead, administration, capacity. These words need to join the lexicon of words seen as positive, not negative for they help ensure quality and accountability. I, for one, am overhead and proud of it.

What do you think? Are you proud to be overhead? How do you choose the charities you support? Do you think my observations are off base? I would love to hear your thoughts!


Bruce MacDonald
President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada

*During their recent AGM, Imagine Canada welcomed several new board members including our very own President and CEO Bruce MacDonald. Bruce states that he "...hopes to connect with the broader trends facing the voluntary sector and hopefully make a contribution to charities and non-profits in a wider context."

Bruce was elected alongside illustrious individuals such as: Darlene Jamieson (Merrick Jamieson Sterns Washington & Mahody Barristers); Derek Gent (Vancity Community Foundation); and Mike Pedersen (TD Bank) and joins existing members such as Stéphane Vaillancourt (Les YMCAs du Québec) and Owen Charters (MS Society of Canada).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Bruce, for clarifying this question about administration. How are social organizations supposed to measure the impact of their efforts, plan for the future or simply deliver quality services on time and consistently without spending prudently on infrastructure?
This is also interesting coming from the BBBS point of view, when so many of your valuable resources are in-kind donations from volunteers = mentors (one of the most successful interventions for kids in need).
Congratulations on 100 years of important work.
Allison White Gryspeerdt
Community Investment, CIBC

Post a Comment