Doing More With Less

I have heard this so many times in my life as a fundraising professional that I want to throw up. To be honest, “doing more with less” is an incredibly insulting statement. Fundraisers are always under-resourced and that, in turn, produces burnout and anger.

Has doing more with less ever worked? I have often said that people should work smarter, not harder, and, whenever possible, let technology assist you. But the phrase doing more with less implies that there is waste and a whole lot of resources (not just money, but spare time) on fundraisers’ hands. I cannot vouch for other fundraisers but the teams I am involved with are usually giving over 100% of their effort. Being someone who tracks all my hours at work — just part of my neuroses — to see what an average week looks like for me, averaging 47.85 hrs/wk, after 8 years. I wrote about work/life balance here.

What about Overhead?

There has been so much commentary (usually by non-fundraisers) about the cost to raise a dollar/overhead. As a result, the fundraising profession is under even more scrutiny. Add to that the fact that there is such a high burnout rate, and one has to question the ‘bosses and boards’ when they say do more with less. I wrote about the underpaid employee here as well as the life expectancy of fundraising staff here.

So, what can be done to assuage the concerns of the ‘bosses and boards’? I believe that blanket statements like this come from a true lack of understanding (and sometimes even lack of respect) for what the fundraising department does. I read somewhere “Fundraising is easy to critique and second guess because unless you do it, you have no idea of the process required to get people to give money that they do not have to give”. Pretty profound statement! So, the first step is one of education. Create that culture of philanthropy. Have everyone rowing in the same direction.

Invest More

Sometimes we cut off our noses to spite our face. I had a volunteer once ask me what it would take to raise an extra $1 million annually. I told him a couple more fundraisers on staff. Additionally, a bit of time to onboard and indoctrinate them in the culture of philanthropy that we hope to instill. Five years later, I am still waiting for those extra staff members to be approved in the budget…

I have rarely seen a charity that squanders money foolishly (though it does happen) — the fundraisers know better than anyone that every dollar spent on offices and flights is a dollar less that is expended on the mission. Unfortunately, the notion of doing more with less tends to also impact the marketing team as well. The marketing budgets are usually among the first victims of drastic budget cuts. That is so counter-intuitive! When an organization is in crisis, it is at that exact time that marketing needs to be ramped up.

Add to that the budget cuts in personal enrichment of employees through seminars, conferences, etc. that will inevitably occur and you have gone from bad to worse. If ‘boards and bosses’ embraced these educational opportunities as a potential way for employees to learn how to do things differently, or shared issues with the group and together found a workable solution, then this relatively small investment of a conference can reap huge rewards. It also ensures that the staff member is staying on top of trends and can make information-based decisions.

So, to my readers that are ‘boards and bosses’ — I implore you to ditch the phrase do more with less. Let’s come up with a solution together.

Until next week.