Monday, December 19

Operating Budgets: The Controversy

One of the perennially contentious topics in the non-profit world is funding for operational expenses. Let's face it: no one wants to fund staplers, copier ink, building insurance or any of the unglamorous essentials behind the scenes that make every organization run. It's just not as energizing and motivating as chipping in for a shiny new exhibit or jump starting a fantastic new educational program. 

If you're to believe a recent article at the Chronicle of Philanthropy, more grant makers should be called on to make no-strings-attached grants available so that non-profits have funding for whatever they need to spend it on - even if it's something as unexciting as toilet paper or staples.

Believe me when I say that as a grant writer, I know something about the frustration of trying to get an organization fully funded in the face of challenges, partners experiencing budget cuts and the sometimes bafflingly technical minutiae that can snag the money you need or get you ejected from any consideration for the rest of the year.

So I don't say this lightly, but I have to disagree with the notion that there should be lots of capital available for general operating expenses. Certainly there should be some, to help those in a pinch or who need seed capital while they branch out in new directions or transition from one focus to another. But generally speaking, if an organization is (1) valuable to it's community, (2) meeting a genuine need and (3) structured such that it can be viable long term, it should be capable of funding itself.

I have no illusions about the vast amount of restructuring many charities would need to do in order to fit this bill, but I don't think it's unreasonable or unwise to use as a general standard. Many organizations could do with much less in the way of overhead and many would benefit (despite the initial pain) from being forced to re-focus their mission, merge with a rival charity (it boggles my mind that there even ARE rival charities) or live within their means.

We are no less morally responsible for our work as stewards of the resources we have been given when they are those of an organization for which we work/ volunteer than we are when they are our own private resources. Why should we be any less expected to adjust, adapt and humble ourselves to what is needed until we can legitimately build ourselves up to where we want to be?

What do you think? How much operational support should be available in grant money, and how much should organizations be required to provide for themselves?

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