Some Consider Me “Overhead.” (And You Might Be “Overhead” Too)

“You know, you want to make fifty millions dollars selling violent video games to kids, go for it.  We’ll put you on the cover of Wired Magazine.  But you want to make half a million dollars trying to cure kids of malaria, and you’re considered a parasite yourself.”  Dan Pallotta

This 2013 TED Talk has changed my life.warhold-pallotta

I serve in a non-profit world that uses words like “stewardship season” and “pledging.”  I spend a lot of time explaining to people that we do not give to the Church to perpetuate an institution.  We give to change the world – and in the Church’s case – we hope to change to the world in the name of Jesus Christ.

I could make a case that giving to a Church is self-serving.  Any of us can make direct financial donations  to hospitals in Syria and HIV programs in Haiti rather than giving through the church office.

Giving to a Church also includes providing services specifically intended for members or other participants:  worship, educational offerings, pastoral care, youth activities. Some of our churches have just enough money to keep their doors open for long time members to be able to sit in their usual pews and sing their familiar hymns.  Again, I could make a case that giving to Church is self-serving.

How many congregations actually do change the world?  To be honest I know many who do.

Ask refugee families sponsored by congregations.  Ask immigrants who get free ESL training by church volunteers.  Ask the homeless men and women who have shelter in church fellowship halls during the winter months.  Ask the lonely people who have volunteers checking in on them.  Ask the school children who receive health kits from congregations all over the nation delivered by Church World Service.  Ask the victims of disasters whose homes are rebuilt by kind strangers.  In their worlds, life has indeed changed for the better.

Dan Pallotta does not begrudge the non-profit employee who makes a good salary.

Palotta’s point:  we need the best and brightest serving in the non-profit sector. But he admits that there aren’t many people who would give up a $400k salary working in the for-profit sector to earn $84, 028. which is the average salary of the CEO of a hunger charity.  And that $400,000 earner is not even being selfish; she’s being smart:

It’s cheaper for that ($400,000 earning) person to donate $100,000 every year to the hunger charity, save $50,000 on their taxes, so still be roughly $270,000 ahead of the game, now be called a philanthropist because they donated $100,000 to charity, probably sit on the board of the hunger charity, and indeed probably supervise the poor SOB who decided to become the CEO of the hunger charity, and have a lifetime of this kind of power and influence and popular praise still ahead of him.”


Charity Navigator evaluates how much overhead non-profits pay to keep their work going and the “best charities”  are the ones with love overhead.  People generally don’t want our financial donations spent on advertising or utilities or maybe even on staff salaries.

But sometimes “overhead” is what makes the work happen more effectively.

I say this as a person who is part of “the overhead” of the non-profit I serve.  Our staff, our office space, the tech expenses, the publication expenses, the training are all part of “the overhead” of our organization.  We can call such things “mission expenses” because they are.  They make it possible to do the ministry we are trying to do.  But mostly we are considered not-as-sexy-as-the-direct-care-to-the-mission “overhead.”

How can we work smarter?  How can we minimize administrivia and maximize relational ministry?  Do we really need some of the expenditures that we’ve always had.  (Exhibit A:  Newsletters.  Do they have an impact in moving forward the mission?  If yes, that’s great.  But if not, let’s get rid of them.)

Do advertising expenses need tweaking?  [Note:  if you still have a Yellow Pages account, you need to retire immediately.]  People will not support our ministry if they don’t know what our ministry is.  We need to make it spectacularly easy to make financial donations.  We need to make it spectacularly easy to offer time and talent.

Are we (really) open to new participation?  If we are simply doing Church for ourselves and our own people, then we are merely engaged in an exclusive club.  Almost every church I know has a core group of leaders who have been the leaders for a long time.  Too long a time.  “New people” will not step up if there is no place to step.

Are we rewarding those who are expanding the mission?  If I am doing a good job – whether you consider me an overhead cost or not – I deserve to be paid well and so do you.  No, we will not get rich serving the non-profit sector.  But we will get our hands dirty in the glorious every day work of our mission.

My mission is to equip people to go out and show what the love of Jesus looks like out in the world – among other things.  What’s your mission?  Are you just part of the “overhead” or are you something else?


One response to “Some Consider Me “Overhead.” (And You Might Be “Overhead” Too)

  1. Well, phooey–I made my comment on the wrong post. Please forgive me. >>we need the best and brightest serving in the non-profit sector.<< Exactly. As an aside, I heard you speak at Westminster on Sunday morning and enjoyed your message so much (I love MORE than our stained glass windows), that I put you on my list of blogs to follow.


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