Penny Wise and Pound Foolish: How Infrastructure Neglect Costs You
The delicate balance between investing in an organization – in tech, hiring, and training – and keeping overhead costs down can be counterproductive. Rethink.
“Overhead” and “Infrastructure”.
The former is something donors and watchdogs don’t want to hear. “Minimize it,” they say, assuming overhead is about careless spending, outsized salaries, or too little attention paid to mission fulfillment. The latter, infrastructure, often gets lost in the battle to minimize overheard, costing organization efficiency: functional technologies, well-trained staff, a website that does everything people expect it to, etc.
The fact is, infrastructure spending typically appears on the annual report as overhead, that menace so distasteful to donors and funders. As a result, the quest to drive that number down yields less measurable, but potentially devastating organizational weaknesses: wasted time, lost donors, limited communication ability, and staff whose skills are not maximized.
When assessing a smart infrastructure investment, it is helpful to look at three categories:
Technology: As a broad category this includes the hardware and software required to return clean data, robust communications ability, accurate financial analysis, and data driven service provision. When assessing your organization’s position, as yourself the following questions:
- Are we confident that the donor and financial information we receive is accurate? Or, are we developing our fundraising and financial strategies based on hunches, assumptions and what we’ve always done?
- Do we have a full picture of who we are serving, and what our outcomes are? Or, do our grant reports rely on guesswork?
- Are we reaching as many clients, donors, and volunteers as we could be? Or, are we posting to facebook hoping blindly that people are moved by our mission?
- Is our staff being used to its fullest potential? Or, do we lose hours and hours mired in inefficiencies and poor systems?
Staff development: This includes hiring the right people, giving them the training they need to be successful, and retaining them for the betterment of your organization and clients. When thinking about staff development, ask yourself:
- Do we have the right experts in the right positions?
- Does our staff have the tools they need to be strategic, successful, and effective?
- Do we have the ability to track meaningful outcomes from our staff?
Communication Tools: Communication tools are the lifeblood of an organization, including websites, social media platforms, and newsletters. In this constantly evolving landscape, failure to keep up will cost an organization the audience of supporters they need to be successful in fulfilling their missions. When assessing your communications tools, consider:
- Are visitors coming to our website? Or, is this a deadzone?
- Once visitors arrive at our website, are they finding what they need in an easily navigable way? Or, leaving immediately?
- Are our social media tools expanding our organizations reach, or limping along with no real impact?
- Are we able to communicate our mission to a robust, active email list? Or, are we spam?
After answering these questions for yourself, it may be time to engage your board and other stakeholders in a conversation about strategically investing in the infrastructure of your organization. These investments, implemented properly, will yield increases in fundraising capability and service provision. It may help to have a third party consultant aid you in assessing and addressing what your organization needs to further your mission and goals.