Published: 28 June 2013

The comms insider – Admin fees and wastage peeves

Last month I read this article on the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network about charity administration costs and why, contrary to popular opinion, charities do need to spend to be effective. I’ve never understood the position that slashing overheads equals better management – charities are businesses like any other, why should they be expected to run on less?

No rational-minded person would expect every single penny they donate to a charity to go directly towards building a well in a remote African village. It’s quite obvious that in order to get the money to that village there will be administrative costs to pay – for processing the donation, for example.

Most likely there will also be costs to offset the advertising that first attracted that person to make a donation to the charity. That of course will involve paying the salaries of the people working on that advertising, in other words, the salaries of the charity’s communications professionals, and why shouldn’t charity employees receive a decent pay cheque at the end of each month?

However, there’s no doubt many charities can do more to minimise waste. As I covered financial wastage in some depth in my previous posts, this time I’d like to focus on two other types of wastage within charities: time and effort.

1. Time wastage

By this I am referring to the classic ‘meetings about meetings’ scenario. I’m not for one moment suggesting this doesn’t occur in non-voluntary sector organisations as well, but my experience of this sector has led me to feel fairly confident in asserting that we charity communications folk are particularly good at holding pointless meetings.

I’ve learned that the larger the charity and the more communications folk it has, the greater the number of meetings it will hold. On many occasions I’ve emerged from dingy meeting rooms (because as you’ll know, charities don’t like to be seen to be ostentatious in their choice of décor) blinking in the light, scratching my head trying to remember a single useful point that was made, while simultaneously panicking about the mountain of work that would doubtless have stacked up over the course of the preceding hour. I say hour, maybe an hour and a half, because more often than not these gatherings of charity communications professionals overrun – ironic that we masters of communication fail so miserably at mastering the art of sticking to an agenda.

2. Effort wastage

One word that will make anyone who has worked in a large, unwieldy and corporate-minded charity shudder is ‘silos.’

Perhaps the main reason for having so many meetings is the fact that everyone has a different agenda which they’re constantly trying to force on one another. This results in a spectacular failure to listen or comprehend each other, which in turn leads to frustration, confusion and a total lack of efficiency.

It is impossible to follow a clear, strategic path when the people who are meant to be treading the path together are more intent on trampling on one another than helping each other over the hurdles. When your colleagues are your hurdles it can be a paralysing experience, and this for me has been the biggest challenge of all whilst working as a communications professional.

The challenges I’ve cited in both my blogs so far ( part one & part two) really come down to the same issue of poor management. If the right amount of direction was coming from the top there wouldn’t be confusion over roles and responsibilities at the bottom. Surely then everyone could work in harmony? I fear that pigs may sooner fly…

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Related articles: Communications and Fundraising: a great divide or a beautiful partnership? and Working together: resolving tension between comms and policy teams


Anonymous, Mystery UK charity

The comms insider is an anonymous comms professional working at a UK charity. S/he wishes to remain incognito so as to be able to write frankly about his/her experiences and opinions.