One Graphic That Will Change How You Look at Overhead

One Graphic That Will Change How You Look at Overhead


by David Allen, Development for Conservation


About a year ago, I posted about overhead costs – How Much is Your Obsession with Overhead Costing You?

In that post, I concluded that I find organizations not spending enough on fundraising far more often that I find organizations spending too much. “But even THAT isn’t the problem,” I wrote.

The real problem is that they’re proud of it.”


I had occasion to revisit this thought the other day when I ran across this gem buried in one land trust’s annual report.

With a five-year average of high program allocation (91%) and low administration and fundraising costs (9%), we know how to maximize your donation.

The statement was accompanied by a graphic similar to that used by just about everyone else:




The problem with this graphic is that the story it tells is one of finite resources. The larger the Admin slice is, the smaller all the rest need to be to accommodate.


It’s time for a graphic that tells a different story.





This is one I like a lot. This slide carries the same message that “Karen” commented on Claire Axelrad’s post about a year ago on the same topic:

When I am asked, ‘How much money actually goes toward the actual cause?,’ my answer is ‘all of it goes toward the cause.’ [For example] No nonprofit can operate without electricity. I’m in Florida, and whenever there is a hurricane, we try working without electricity for a few days. It doesn’t work. So yes, the electric bill benefits the cause.”


And most importantly, it leaves the door open to seeing the entire pie expand as the Admin/Overhead does.

We all have a role to play in re-educating the public about overhead and fundraising costs. Maybe this type of graphic can help you. Try using it in your next Annual Report.

It certainly helped me.


Cheers, and have a great week.




PS: I am not claiming credit for this idea. I saw this somewhere else – I just can’t remember where. I love it. And I’ve been using it ever since.


Photo by Jess Watters courtesy of

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  • Johanna /
    Posted at 12:06h, 19 June

    Sharing this at my next board meeting!

  • Carol Abrahamzon
    Posted at 08:20h, 12 June

    I love this!!!!

    • Mary O'Brien
      Posted at 10:45h, 14 June

      Me too! And I love that my mentor Carol also loves this;)