In Defense of NGO Overhead Costs

This day has felt so distant to me, the day when I will board a plane to Guatemala for the summer.  Even more so, the errands I have been running for the necessary project materials from the states have made the whole preparation process feel slightly estranged from my actual project.  My live-it project is to serve as the Summer Regional Director for the non-profit organization, Rising Minds, a US-based 501(c) (3) non-profit organization based in the Lake Atitlan region of Guatemala.  This project embodies my definition of global citizenship because it seeks to bridge cultural, economic and developmental gaps through education, awareness and the empowerment of both local and international communities.  Therefore, it is has been odd to run around collecting Chinese manufactured products such as googly eyes and whiffle ball bats from Dollar Tree in order to bring them to Guatemala.  It has made me question the global commodity chain especially within the context of international non-profits.  The balance between purchasing cheap products to make the most of the grant versus quality products has made me appreciate challenges of non-profit overhead costs.

My experience preparing for this summer has made me value grants which allow the flexibility to cover overhead costs such as critical office supplies.  Most grants only allow for maximum 10-15% of the funding to be allocated to overhead which includes staff compensation, rent, office supplies and tools for projects.  More often than not, charities are rated for their effectiveness based on their avoidance of the “dreaded overhead costs.”  However I am becoming increasingly aware that we cannot divorce our roles from development projects nor can we expect great results without investing in the proper tools.  This often seems to limit the ability of small NGOs to obtain grants who operate with little program fees yet need grants to expand through general foundational supplies.

For example, the Live-It grant is the largest grant that Rising Minds has received to date.  Alongside the staff at Rising Minds, I have been engaged in long discussions about what supplies to buy in the states, what is available here in Guatemala, what should be made from recycled materials, etc.  It is an important balance between quality and effectiveness per dollar.

That amount that an organization allocates for administration should be no indication of its success.  In fact, more often than not, the opposite is the case.  If a non-profit fails to invest in research, professional quality control, office supplies and tools, it is unlikely to make a positive impact.

Below is the list of items which I purchased using the Live-It Grant fund in the United States totaling $1,100 all of which will be used in my projects this summer.

1. Skills tool set (drill, sawzall, flashlight and circular saw) – used for sustainable playgrounds and construction projects

2. Gardening gloves (x12) – used for community gardens and composting

3. 18v battery for Skills Hand tools – used for sustainable playgrounds and construction projects

4. 1 portable projector – used for presentations, volunteer orientations, youth program, meetings with local government, etc.

5. Mini-welder/soldering tool – used for sustainable construction projects and San Pedro trash barrel project

6. 1,000 plastic binder inserts – used for eco-art training, ESL, CPR, youth program, nutrition classes and sustainable construction documentation

7. 12 thumb-drives – used for project documentation and youth program

8. 10 packs of photo paper, 50 sheets per pack – used for cultural immersion, homestay programs and promotion

9. 10 packet of laminating paper, 100 sheets per packet – used for Eco Wall project, etc

10. 10 personal size whiteboards –used for youth program, language exchanges and teaching English teachers program

11. 10 computers and 1 printer (donated from Gates Foundation) – used for all programs

12. Silk Screen, plus materials –used for youth program

13. 10 packs of crayons-used for youth program

14. 10 packs of Crayola markers-used for youth program

15. 10 packs of colored pencils – used for youth program

16. 10 packs of construction paper – used for youth program

17. 10 pairs of scissors – used for youth program

18. 5 packs of cardstock – used for Rising Mind’s promotion

19. 3 boxes of 1in brass fasteners – used for Eco Art trainings

20. 500 Googly eyes – used for Eco art trainings and youth program

21. 500 Pipe-cleaners- used for Eco art trainings and youth program

22. 2 balls of rubber bands- used for Eco art trainings and youth program

23. 25 pairs of cloth stretch-gloves- used for Eco art trainings and youth program

24. 500 buttons – used for Youth Programs and Eco Art trainings

25. 100 sheets of Foam paper – used for Youth Programs

26. 10 Digital Cameras with 8GB memory cards (donated!) – used for Youth Program videography project

27. 6 glue guns – used for Eco Trainings with Mothers group in Panyebar

28. 2 whiffle balls/bats –used for Youth Programs in Panyebar, Chacap and San Juan

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About awilcox1120

I'm just trying to figure life out one day at a time.

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