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Tip #56 Break Free From the “Virtue” of Frugality


In an interview for a previous ED position, I was asked to provide an example of how I demonstrated “extreme frugality.” This was back in the days of coupon-clipping and while I momentarily pondered that as a response, I instinctively knew it was not “extreme” enough for the interviewing board members. Ultimately, I shared that my husband (not me) reuses Ziplock sandwich bags on occasion…you know if the contents are not wet or crummy. (Yah…I know…pretty gross.) As soon as the words left my mouth, I felt my face go flush and I began to sweat. Perhaps that was an overshare? Thankfully, the individuals conducting the interview nodded in approval and delight. My being an accessory to the overuse of Ziplocks won me the job. The entire episode also sent a clear message about the culture of the organization: frugality ruled.


I entered a world where one day could include designing newsletters, plunging toilets, bookkeeping, and public speaking. My capacity (what little there was) was equivalent to capability from the board’s perspective. Why hire costly expertise or outside help when things were getting done? If anything, we simply needed to bring in more volunteer help. Or, maybe an intern or two?


As I write this, I can sense some of you nodding your heads in understanding. This is not an uncommon story. Too often, we’re prioritizing frugality over excellence.


The Most Beautiful of Budget Lines

Thankfully, my Zippy-reusing husband’s day job is as a CPA. As I daily grieved my life being stretched thin and the mistakes and missed opportunities that came with wearing too many hats, he asked a very reasonable question: “Don’t you have a budget line for contracted labor?”


I wish this tale now developed into a description of a revised budget, a focus on stewardship of all resources – including human capital, the blissful enjoyment of well-designed newsletters and me sleeping through the night, free from the dread of bookkeeping or toilet plunging. It doesn’t. What it does provide is a well-learned lesson that helped me in future roles: It is ok, and in fact, it is often better, to hire experts. If you can’t do it well in-house, for the love of your mission and those you serve, take it to a pro. Focus on frugality and you’ll get lean. Focus on excellence and you’ll get growth.


When did it become bad to hire good help?

Doing more with less should not equate to doing more work with less impact, but it often does. When our audiences are inundated with messages, our teams are tested with ever-increasing need, and our best-laid plans come against COVID-19, policy changes, and everything else 2020 threw at the world, our focus shifts to sustaining rather than thriving. Maintaining the integrity of the budget has trumped growth at any cost. We need to level-up our approach to all we do. Our causes deserve it and the world demands it. As DO MORE GOOD founder, Bill McKendry often says, “You’re not competing with your fellow charities or churches.  You’re competing with Nike, Apple, and Netflix. You’re competing for people’s discretionary time and income to support your cause.”


I guarantee Nike doesn’t reuse Ziplocks, last year’s advertisement, or much else. At this level of competition, you’re going to need some help.


Capacity ≠ Capability and Capability ≠ Excellence

Seek excellence. Work with your team to really evaluate where your talents and strengths exist and where deficiencies are holding you back. This may include doing some time tracking and having tough (but worthwhile) conversations. You may not be able to bring in outside expertise in every area right away but start with those that will result in an immediate return on investment and use those gains to build an even stronger team.


Check out the DO MORE GOOD Recommended Resources page for industry experts who can help your team to do more good.

Katie Appold

Katie Appold, MPA
Executive Director | DO MORE GOOD

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