Helping Charities Thrive Through Mythbusting

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How can we do the most for the causes we love? It starts by changing some common misconceptions. There are myths we’ve been taught to believe about the charitable sector that are actually undermining the causes we love. We’ve identified six myths in total (the Overhead Myth, the Trust Myth, the Change Myth, the Sustainability Myth, the Ranking Myth, and the Balance Myth), and will review one of the worst offenders here.


The Overhead Myth

There is a stubbornly persistent myth that “Overhead is bad and only charities with low overhead are worth giving to.” I can say with some confidence that no other myth has undermined the effectiveness of charities more.

Let’s consider some factors that charities weave together to make a positive impact. Here are a few:

■ Talented staff and good leadership
■ Data to inform good decisions
■ Technology to make an issue relevant to people so they will act
■ Communications to drive awareness and fundraising
■ A healthy work culture … and money

Consider the last one. We know good workspaces are critical for businesses. There’s nothing like a negative work environment to encourage high turnover, low productivity, and moody Mondays. It’s the same for charities prioritizing a culture of hope, determination, and happy people. All these things matter. And all of them take overhead: investing in a healthy office space, providing staff benefits or team building opportunities … overhead. Indeed, depending on who you ask, all the things on the list above are considered overhead (another problem is there is no one definition for over-head that everyone agrees on).

Now, imagine that you’re the CEO of a charity that faces some very common problems:
Problem: Talented staff keep leaving because they can’t live on charity wages. Solution: Raise the wages, right? But… wages are often considered “overhead,” and donors won’t give if you have too much overhead. So… turnover persists, and resources are drained due to constant hiring and training.

Problem: Your charity is effective locally, and you’re ready to amplify your impact but need more resources to do so. You consider having a fundraiser. But… fundraising costs are “overhead.” So… you keep yourself small by making small donation appeals citing the “low overhead” you have as a positive, which perpetuates the overhead myth suffocating all charities. 

I have spoken to countless charity leaders who are demoralized by keeping overhead low because it makes them less effective. But donors demand it, so charities act against their own interest, and promote their low overhead to donors as if it’s a benefit.

And the cycle continues.

We encourage people to reframe this myth away from the notion that overhead is bad to an under-standing that charities use “overhead” as a key input to create change.

This is just one example of a myth that, once re-stated, helps us give more effectively. 
Blue Ocean Giving is a company that brings you clarity on how to best support the causes you love so you can make charitable giving a financial pillar for you and your family (or your business). In addition to some of this mythbusting, Blue Ocean Giving also uncovers principles for effective giving to inform your giving choices, and can guide you through a fun conversation to identify the causes you most care about in order to co-create your customized portfolio of charities that you love and will be excited to support.

We can work with you and your RGF Integrated Wealth Management advisor to help if you want to give more, but are unsure of how to do so. ■


Andrew Stegemann is the CEO of Blue Ocean Giving and can be contacted at andrew@blueoceangiving.com or www.blueoceangiving.com

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of RGF Integrated Wealth Management, which makes no representations as to their completeness or accuracy.