Changing the Culture on Costs, One Community at a Time

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Most nonprofits know the problems caused when governments, funders, and the public incorrectly assume that only program costs are well spent and that overhead costs are undesirable. Some nonprofit leaders in Napa Valley, California are doing something about those attitudes, and providing inspiration for the rest of the nonprofit community...

The Napa Valley Coalition of Nonprofit Agencies recently created an Advocacy Education Committee that is dedicated to two primary goals. First, the committee seeks to promote the sustainability and growth of the nonprofit sector by providing its membership with tools and education to effectively advocate for their mission and clients. Second, the group is educating the community at large about the value of nonprofits. Core to both goals is helping people understand what overhead is and why it is so important for maintaining a vital and effective nonprofit sector.

Sara Cakebread, Co-Chair of the Committee, put it succinctly: “What we’re trying to do is to create a whole program that educates the public: What is overhead, why it is important and why we need to support our nonprofits, if we want them to thrive.” Toward this end, Committee member Becky Peterson reframes how nonprofits should be viewed, “[They] do good work in our community, often filling the gap that government or the private sector doesn’t fill… we need to think about nonprofits as service providers, not as charities.”

This subtle, but important shift supports the growing understanding that to be effective and efficient nonprofits must invest in their infrastructures and a solid base from which to operate.

Cakebread said it well when she observed: “Donors say we want our money to go to programs, we don’t want to spend anything on overhead. As a donor you can’t do that — you can’t give somebody a lot of money and tell them they can’t pay for somebody to administer it. Or deposit the check. Or pay for an office or pay for utilities. All of those things people don’t think about.”

Jan Masaoka, CEO of CalNonprofits, calls The Napa Valley Coalition of Nonprofit Agencies “a great example of local nonprofits working together to get more funding to the communities they serve and represent, as well as working with county officials to streamline government processes."

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