Some nonprofits (the ACLU, Trevor Project, Planned Parenthood, the Anti-Defamation League, ProPublica) are happily awash in cash and new donors who are freaked out by what the GOP congressional and White House monopoly means for our country. Half of the ACLU’s $15M raised since election day came in the five days after Election Day.
This is great news (if you’re a liberal like me). It’s also great if you’re a development professional like me. But about 30 seconds of excitedly jumping around the office like a happy idiot, I’d then revert to worrying about how those donors gave. If they didn’t give unrestricted dollars, then this big ramp-up everyone’s expecting is going to be tricky. (Is it pathetic that even though it’s not my problem to manage, that’s pretty much how it happened: small fist pump of excitement for these great nonprofits, then worries about scaling up so quickly if there weren’t enough funds to provide solid infrastructure. And I don’t work for any of them!)
Scaling up services when you get a big grant or an influx of money (think Icebucket Challenge), especially when that money comes at the same time you need to, say, train and manage hundreds of volunteer lawyers to aid refugees and non-citizens when the president has just declared war on Muslims and people who look vaguely Middle Eastern. They need to hire a bunch of people to go do that training, write and produce manuals, supervisors and admins to support those new teams, notaries, paid lawyers to help the volunteer lawyers with the more complicated stuff…they’re going to spend money sending folks places, making copies, filing legal documents, and more. There are more hidden costs: hiring another accountant to manage a 25% increase in invoices, hiring part-time or temporary HR help, hiring fundraising help to ensure every donor is promptly thanked, adding office space and someone to clean it, providing these new employees with computers and cell phones.
Doubtless, it’s a great problem to have–no one at any of those organizations is complaining. All we ask is that when you want to help your favorite nonprofit scale up or grow a program…or even continue meeting the current needs of those they help in an era of swiftly rising costs…please remember those behind-the-scenes costs that make every social worker, teacher, and college intern possible. And then let 15% of your gift go for those very real costs.