Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

January 14 2015

The Serious Problem That’s Getting In The Way Of Non-Profits

By David McMillin

The world is facing some big challenges. From terminal illnesses with no cure to poverty to widespread hunger, many organizations in the meetings industry are working to address those issues. However, Dan Pallotta, Founder and Chief Humanity Officer of Advertising for Humanity, highlights the current environment is not giving the non-profit sector the tools and resources it needs to make a serious difference. The biggest problem? Perception.

“We need to transform the way the donating public thinks about charity,” Pallotta said during the closing general session at Convening Leaders 2015.

Pallotta highlighted that the general public has been trained to believe that associations and non-profits should shrink their overhead expenses with small salaries and minimal investments in innovation. The fewer dollars going toward the overhead and operational expenses leave room to contribute more dollars to research and specific cause-related activities, right? Wrong. Pallotta stressed that non-profit leaders must work together to reshape the public’s understanding of their bottom lines.

“Stop treating money as a sin in the non-profit sector,” Pallotta said. “Stop preventing the non-profit sector from using money to incentivize the production of more value.”

While Pallotta’s work helps raise more than $100 million each year for causes such as pediatric leukemia, breast cancer and AIDS research, he told the audience that giving still has a long way to go. In fact, charitable donations have remained stuck at just two percent of the US GDP since the 1970s.

A New Image For Non-Profits

Pallotta is leading the way to help educate the public on the realities of non-profits and their need for greater investments in their staff and their abilities to take risks and innovate. As a Director of the Charity Defense Council, Pallotta is giving the non-profit sector a voice. Consider the billboards currently connecting with drivers in Massachusetts. Don’t ask if a charity has low overhead, the billboards read. Ask if it has big impact.

Many Convening Leaders attendees and PCMA members represent the non-profit industry, and they can help support Pallotta’s efforts to reeducate the general public on how money works in their organizations. We need to make big dollars make better sense. In your fundraising efforts, it’s time to stop telling potential donors what percentage of their charitable contribution goes toward the cause versus the percentage that goes toward overhead. Instead, let them know just why that overhead plays a crucial role in giving your cause the support it needs.

“These problems are never going to get solved if we keep forcing organizations to shrink their dreams,” Pallotta said. “Low overhead means low horizons.”

Interested in learning more about Pallotta’s approach to rethinking charity? Check out his Q&A in Convene here.

Do you have your own thoughts on how to help non-profits increase their funding and increase their impact? Go to Catalyst to share your thoughts on how to pave a more promising road forward for non-profits.

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