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2014 DMAW Annual Kick-Off Event: Charity Watchdogs, Donor Perceptions and the Overhead Myth – A Panel Discussion on Thursday, January 30th at the National Press Club in Washington DC

By Elizabeth Salnoske and Amie Sharaf, Client Services Managers, Production Solutions

The night began with a State of the Union and Introductions of the 2014 DMAW Board of Directors.  Immediate Past President, Mike DeFlavia reiterated that our goal for 2014 is to remain valuable and relevant, while making connections (and hopefully achieving a ROI).  The new 2014 DMA President, Pete Carter then reminded the audience that our vision is to be evangelists for our organizations – regardless of our side of the business.

The speakers for the annual kick-off event started the presentation with a few questions for the audience: Are Charity Watchdogs your friend?  Or, have you been bitten by one?

Dan Pallotta, President and CEO of the Charity Defense Council urged us to no longer use the term “Watchdog”, reminding the crowd that both sides have big hearts and both sides want to help nonprofits deliver their missions.

Next up , H. Art Taylor, President & CEO for the BBB Wise Giving Alliance reminded us the “Watchdogs” are there because donors need to trust that their support will lead to change.  He noted that Donors want to have more information on overhead expenses as a way to help them determine that the values important and relevant to them are, in fact, being upheld by their charity.

“I get a three star rating because I WANT to get a three star rating.” Steve Nardizzi, Executive Director of Wounded Warrior Project. Steve made very moving and emotional statements regarding his view on Charity “Watchdogs” and his organization, saying that his top priority continues to be the families he and WWP serve and the impact they’re making in the lives of service members. He recognizes that there are ways to improve the organization’s rating – government grants, sponsorship, etc. – but there are reasons why they won’t, one being sponsorship from alcohol companies sends the wrong message, that they’re aligning themselves with companies while service members may be suffering from substance abuse.

Bunkie Righter, Director of Business Development at GuideStar USA, Inc., just wants to be part of the solution. GuideStar stood with Charity Navigator and BBB Wise Giving Alliance to denounce the “overhead ratio” as a valid indicator of nonprofit performance. Bunkie says that donors want an easy answer and look to the ratings for that. She said that she understands it’s an imperfect measurement but allows donors who want it, a deeper look into how organizations are spending their funds. The important thing to do is move the needle and impact change, communicating that impact to donors.

Andrew Watt, President and CEO of Association of Fundraising Professionals, challenged us to take ownership of how donors view our organizations by providing effective communication about what we do and be honest about how we spend our program and operational dollars.

In conclusion, Geoff Peters of CDR Fundraising Group, reminded us that we’re all working toward the same end-goal: to positively impact lives and create change, and together we can agree on a metric that is fair and transparent to our donors who support our mission.