Kudos to these three great organizations--GuideStar, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, and Charity Navigator--for taking a stand against the fixation on overhead! Yes, charities should be efficient. But, to be relevant, charities must be effective. That is what donors expect and, for the USO, what troops and families deserve.
Being effective starts with aligning priorities and allocating resources to meet the greatest needs. That process must be informed by empirical data gathered directly from those served. At the USO, we learn a lot about the needs of troops and families in the course of their 9 million visits to our centers and another 2-3 million direct service encounters we have with them each year at locations around the world. All that information feeds our annual planning, budgeting and decision-making.
But we don’t stop there. We expect every program to deliver specific outcomes. After every program activity we document the outcomes in a written after action review. That’s also how we get better—continuously. Through our annual TELLUSO survey of thousands of troops and military family members around the world, we learn what is most important to them and how well our programs and facilities are meeting their needs. We don’t just assume we are accomplishing our mission of lifting the spirits of troops and military families. We know—because 95% tell us, “… the USO lets me know that my country supports me,” and 98% say, “… the USO boosts my morale.”
Without investing in the infrastructure that makes it possible to track outcomes, we would be hard pressed to let our donors know the good their donations make possible.
We have a different view of efficiency. Donors are interested in the impact a donated dollar has on the community a charity serves. In the USO’s case, we are fortunate to have supporters who provide a range of in-kind goods and services that allow us to get greater value for every dollar donated to us. When you take into account that kind of support, including contributed goods, the value of rent-free centers around the world, contributed celebrity time and talent and hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours, we estimate that we deliver $1.52 in goodness for every donated dollar. Keeping in mind that we target those resources where they are needed most, that’s a good return on a donor’s investment!
The preceding is a guest post by Sloan Gibson, the 22nd president of the USO, a role he stepped into in September 2008, after spending more than 20 years in banking. He’s responsible for leading the USO’s mission of lifting the spirits of troops and military families at more than 160 USO locations around the world. Currently, he’s leading the USO’s efforts to support wounded, ill and injured troops and their families through the USO’s Operation Enduring Care. Sloan is a 1975 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, and he earned both Airborne and Ranger qualifications as an Army infantry officer. He also earned a Masters in Economics from the University of Missouri in Kansas City and a Masters in Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. This post can also be found on the Overhead Myth Blog: http://overheadmyth.com/the-uso-on-the-overhead-myth/.