Engineers love to talk about infrastructure – bridges, power systems, and all of those other things underground and in the walls that we can’t see. All of us intuitively know that infrastructure is key but we take for granted that it is there and somehow it will continue to support us as we need it. Infrastructure is also key for organizations – nonprofit and for profit. All too often, however, nonprofit infrastructure gets neglected because funders want dollars to go to programs. The executive director is always thrilled when he/she gets a new funding source for general operating support. There is a lot of financial gymnastics performed when making sure that the combination of administrative and fundraising expense doesn’t exceed a perceived “best practices percentage” for the annual report. We argue, however, without the right infrastructure, effective programs are harder to achieve.
An organization needs a real full-time executive director who isn’t the chief cook and bottle washer – someone who can devote their time to planning and managing the execution of the mission. A COO (chief operating officer) who can manage the day-to-day effectively can free up the executive director to deal with the bigger picture, however, many nonprofits do not have the luxury to have both positions. Marketing/Development/Grant Writing are critical, needing different mixes based on the type of organization. These days, who can survive without an IT infrastructure for program operations, data collection, accounting, development, social media and the list goes on and on. And lastly, far too often accounting and financial systems are an afterthought.
We call for funders to consider the need to fund the infrastructure costs that will allow nonprofit organizations the basis from which to succeed. To get the outcomes (or to better evaluate the outcomes) that funders and the nonprofit desire, there is a critical need for a strong backbone and for some dollars to support it.