It’s Just a Numbers Game

The ALSA’s Bucket challenge has taken the internet and country by storm and has become one of the most successful online fundraising campaigns to date. When an organization has huge success like this there comes more scrutiny. Which there should be; after finding out that some organizations allocated more funds to branding than projects or research, all non-profits need to rise up to the cause and be responsible how donations are used.

Recently I read an article discussing how the ALSA is “only using 34% of funds for research”. The idea of an organization using a third of their funding for programs would be extremely disappointing. However, it took me approximately 30 seconds to find out that, actually, other funds are allocated to education and various programs, and that their administrative costs are only .24 out of every dollar. For an organization like the ALSA, that is very reasonable.

All non-profits try to maximize donations, but without the oil the wheels don’t turn. If no one is paid within a non-profit, the work doesn’t get done. If ink isn’t bought, flyers and materials aren’t printed for the education program. The administrative costs may not be pretty or make you feel better, but they are crucial for the continuation and furthering of the mission. I’ve been told by several donors that they don’t want their donation to cover our shipping and logistics. This is fine, because shipping is completely free to us, but if we didn’t have the logistical part of our programs financed, we wouldn’t be able to operate without fundraising for shipping costs. Sometimes your donation won’t go to a meal, a book, or a vaccination. However, without the money to the operational or logistical needs, those materials wouldn’t get to where they need to, and those programs would at worst not exist, and at best be nowhere near as impactful as they could be.

In a perfect world, 100% of all donations all of the time would go directly to constituents. Organizations like the Red Cross or UNICEF can show these numbers because of the plethora of large and small donations that keep constantly pouring in. Medium or small-sized organizations, especially those who work with specific populations like ALSA don’t get that luxury. People who don’t work within the non-profit sector might think that 24% of funding going towards administrative costs may be high.  The way that materials or salary get allocated within a budget greatly impacts what is technically called administrative.

Administrative costs will always exist, and it isn’t fair to chastise and dismiss an organization who keeps their administrative costs to under 30%. Should the ALSA work to make that number smaller? Of course, as should all of us who work in the non-profit sector, but don’t expect every organization to have 99-100% of donations go directly to programs.

Numbers can be easily manipulated, and numbers most certainly can lie. Before you donate, I encourage you to research how an organization uses it’s funds. A critical eye is important , but criticizing without understanding is dangerous.

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