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October 19, 2023

Rethinking Charity: The Invisible Chains Holding Us Back


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Here at Legs4Africa, we are deeply committed to maximising the number of amputees accessing affordable rehabilitation. However, like countless other organisations committed to making a real social impact, we frequently encounter the constraints of traditional economic models that inhibit the growth and effectiveness of nonprofits. The time has come to challenge these limiting narratives and redefine how we conceive the economics of charity.

The Limiting Paradigm

The discourse surrounding nonprofits often boils down to scrutiny over “overhead costs” and “administrative expenses.” While frugality may appear virtuous in this setting, it can result in an underfunded and under-resourced organisation ill-equipped to tackle the substantial issues it aims to address. Let’s explore how:

1. Talent Drain

In the prevailing model, nonprofits are not “supposed” to offer competitive salaries. Consequently, they struggle to attract talent away from the for-profit sector, where pay and perks can be significantly more appealing.

2. The Stigma Around Advertising

For-profit organisations freely invest in advertising, but nonprofits often abstain from impactful marketing campaigns for fear of public scrutiny. The result? Reduced public engagement and hindered fundraising capabilities.

3. Risk Aversion

The fear of failure deters nonprofits from investing in innovation, particularly when it comes to fundraising initiatives. When innovation is stifled, the potential for growth and increased revenue is also stifled, hampering the organisation’s ability to effect meaningful social change.

4. Time Constraints

The private sector often enjoys the luxury of time to experiment, innovate, and grow. However, the notion that every penny in a nonprofit should be immediately channelled towards the “cause” restricts the ability for long-term planning and investment in growth.

5. Restricted Capital

Unlike for-profits, which can offer stock options or bonds to raise capital for expansion, nonprofits have no such avenues open to them. This leaves them starved for the “idea capital” that can lead to significant growth.

The Numbers Speak

Between 1970 and 2009, only 144 nonprofits managed to grow beyond £50 million in annual revenue. In stark contrast, 46,136 for-profits crossed that revenue threshold. We’re grappling with social issues that are immense in scale; our organisations should reflect that.

Redefining Charity Economics

Rather than asking how much of a donation goes to “the cause” as opposed to overhead, perhaps we should inquire about the scale of an organisation’s ambitions and how they plan to realise them. If a pound invested in “overhead” could multiply into 10 pounds for the cause, isn’t that a more effective model?

Our generation has an opportunity for an enduring legacy of change. To seize it, we must liberate ourselves from the limiting economic models and transition towards a paradigm that embraces growth, investment, and innovation in the nonprofit sector. Let’s not aim simply to keep the overhead low; let’s aim to make an impact where it truly counts.

Feel free to engage with us, share your thoughts, or make a contribution to help us scale and increase our impact.