Debate: Should charity advertising inform donors about administration costs?

US fundraising guru Dan Pallotta says that charities should publicise the importance and size of their overheads

Administration costs include IT equipment
Administration costs include IT equipment

Barbara Frost, chief executive, WaterAidBarbara Frost, chief executive, WaterAid

Running an advertising campaign on overheads would not be a wise use of resources. But we have a legal and moral duty to be open and transparent about our running costs and to keep them as low as possible. We should be honest about the need to spend money raising funds and ensuring we achieve maximum impact.

Last year, 75 per cent of WaterAid's spending was on charitable objectives and 25 per cent on fundraising and governance, which are essential for achieving those objectives. I am happy to explain and defend those costs.

Andrew Barton, head of relationship marketing, Oxfam

Andrew Barton, head of relationship marketing, OxfamThe public will give administration costs as a reason for their scepticism about giving, but we don't need a campaign to educate them. The most important thing for donors is to feel that they can make a difference. We need to concentrate on a positive agenda: highlighting needs and showing the public how their money helps meet them - and doing this in innovative and compelling ways. An advertising campaign focused on administration costs feels defensive and negative. In a crowded advertising space it would also be expensive to achieve cut-through. Let's focus on inspiring donors.

Caroline Fiennes, director, Giving Evidence, and author of It Ain't What You Give, It's The Way That You Give It

Caroline Fiennes, director, Giving EvidenceTalking proactively about admin costs feeds a belief that these are a relevant way of judging a charity. Low overheads do not correlate with doing a good job, as Yale University's Dean Karlan has shown.

Donors ask about overheads because they want reassurance that the charity will do something useful with their money. Nobody wants to fund admin, even if they understand its role. People want to prevent malaria, or climate change or whatever. We should tell compelling narratives about how donors' resources can achieve that.

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