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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

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Show Them Your Value, Beyond Low Overhead
Karen Eber Davis

April, 2010

You are good. You do good work. You provide incredible value to the community. You change and enhance lives. And it drives you nuts that people judge your worth based on one statistic: the rate of your overhead[1].
In his book Uncharitable, Dan Pallotta demonstrates that the question, what percentage of my donation goes to overhead? ..."Is deeply flawed, gives dangerously misleading information, and can reward charities that provide poor service and hurt those that are doing the most good."
If potential supporters discontinue their use of overhead as the evaluation standard of choice -what measurement might they use instead? More important, what answers, besides low overhead, can you offer now to demonstrate the high quality of your work regardless of any changes in evaluation standards. This article suggests four techniques, based on what you already do, to demonstrate your contribution to potential donors and the community at-large.  

Let Others Do Your Talking
Testimonials. Imagine visitors going to the front page of your  website and reading an array of testimonials about your efforts. We all like recommendations especially from third parties who share opinions about products and services.Testimonials can be written quotes or audio or video clips. Potential testimonial sources include customers, donors, board members, family members, partners and community leaders.
If clients are not appropriate augment them with family members, employers and partners, including staff from referral agencies or community leaders with natural links to your organization. Recently, we developed a case statement for a client and used this quote from a foundation about the organization. "For years, (the organization) worked tirelessly and without fanfare to provide first-rate quality special-needs housing..."Ask others for a quote about that explains why they support you.
Sweetser, the Maine organization offers a great example. On its website, this comprehensive behavioral healthcare nonprofit offers testimonials    from clients, donors, volunteers and family members including this one:
"I want to thank you for everything that you did for our child while he was with you...You all offered him and us great support and advice. He will carry this advice with him for the rest of his life... a Grateful Parent."  

Double or Triple Your Current Work
Evaluations. A second more quantitative option to proving your high value makes use of your evaluations. Consider expanding the use of them, if these are now only used internally or to respond to donor's requests. When you gather positive feedback maximize its value by sharing this data with others. Publish highlights. Create simple graphs that show information. Extract interesting quotes. Share your follow-up action plan to show how you are improving based on the information. Provide a link to the total survey results, warts and all, for people to read.

You can view the Northfield, Illinois North Shore Senior Center's evaluation results, including 20 statistics from their customer surveys. The data is divided into three categories: information and assistance, provider responses and case management. The Center, by showing both strengths and growth possibilities, (like the need to improve referrals and response timeliness) shows value and enhances its credibility.
Let Your Numbers Talk
3. Comparative Statistics.
An additional way to show the impact of your work involves statistics. The United Way of Central Florida's
website shares data concerning local needs in education, income and health. Each statistic is followed with a fact about how the United Way positively impacts that area.    
Which of your statistics make you most proud? Perhaps it is the 300 referrals you handle each month. Or, that fact that your children advance three grade levels in one year. One organization boasted that it had the best customer ranking and average cost per client (while also explaining how lower overhead would result in substandard services.) Like the United Way, can you compare your results to data from the community? What if you created an "Overhead and Other Facts" sheet to share when people ask about overhead?

Show, Not Tell
4. Offer a Sample.
On its front page, The Red Cross, has a video, "Haiti Earthquake Two Month Report." With this video, The Red Cross demonstrates its work with few words. Using pictures to tell the story, it explains costs and provides hope in this grim situation. As a way to demonstrate your value, can you offer a similar "sample" so people see for themselves the value of your work?

Beyond Overhead
It is not enough, to have a great organization and do good work. Nor, in the future, if Pallotta words are headed, will low overhead provide sufficient evidence of your value. To attract donors, enhance your community esteem and open new doors, help your supporters to see your work and its benefit. Share testimonials, evaluations, statistics, and samples. In any case, remember your work is always more than one statistic. Be proactive and provide potential supporters more than just evidence of low overhead. 

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