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How to Raise Money for "Overhead"

Reprinted from Katya's Non-Profit Marketing Blog

A reader of this blog sent me an e-mail in reaction to my post on making modules of your mission, and for today's post, I'm going to reply to it.

(In case you missed it, the post is here. I advocated breaking apart a broad mission into understandable pieces that appeal to different donors.)

Here's the question I received concerning an arts organization:


For some nonprofits, one of the major expenses are salaries of employees. Any suggestions for how a nonprofit's CEO can "make the ask" in a fundraising campaign, without sounding too self-serving?

Dear D.,

The most critical aspect of any organization is its people and what they make possible. Nothing wonderful happens without a creative, committed team.

This is not about salaries. This isn't about overhead. It's about your heroic staff, creating amazing arts programs that transform the people you touch. The end results of your efforts is the story you tell in your fundraising pitch. That's not self-serving! Your CEO talking about the lives you change is not self-promotion—it's the beating heart of your mission. Say it loud and proud.

If I were at your arts organization, I'd tell an incredible story about one child touched by a single performance. And I'd say what made it possible was my small, dedicated team. With a donor's support, more of that magic can happen.

You raise money by talking about the impact of your work—not about budget line items. If a donor demands to see the numbers and asks about pay, tell a great story about one of your staff to illustrate my point: that nothing wonderful happens without a creative, committed team. (I assume your staff isn't being paid $1 million apiece—that's something I can't spin.)

The bottom line: Don't be afraid of talking about your people. They aren't overhead—they are change agents. If they do great work, put them front and center in your stories of transformation. To use a theater term, they deserve center stage.

You can do it! I once worked with an environmental organization on how to make their lawyers into heroes people would want to support. Surely this is easier!


Katya Andresen
© 2011, Katya Andresen. Reprinted from Katya's Non-Profit Marketing Blog, May 11, 2011; reprinted with permission.

raising-money-for-overhead_Katya-Andresen.jpgKatya Andresen is the chief operating officer for Network for Good, an independent nonprofit organization that helps nonprofits raise funds for their missions through simple, affordable, and effective online fundraising services, including donation processing and e-mail outreach tools. You can subscribe to her blog at Katya is also the author of the nonprofit marketing book Robin Hood Marketing: Stealing Corporate Savvy to Sell Just Causes.

Topics: Fundraising