Furniture Bank Overhead Manifesto
Since our inception in 1998, Furniture Bank has been addressing the “overhead myth” – i.e., the false idea that low charity overhead is an indicator of high performance.
In the early days we struggled to serve our clients well – it was hard to get furniture from donors without the staff and trucks to pick up that furniture from their homes.
It was hard to provide dignity and choice to recipients without a bright, clean and comforting showroom where they could ‘shop’ for furniture that suited their lifestyle.
It was hard to communicate and administer a growing list of partner agencies and book recipients in for appointments without the phone lines and technology to do so.
We struggled to raise enough funds to cover the overhead costs associated with furnishing homes for people transitioning out of homelessness and displacement at the scale necessary to address the problem in our community.
We had high overhead costs and donors who didn’t want their donation to go to “overhead, administration or fundraising”.
The risk of this shutting down the charity was high but from this came the birth of our social enterprise. We created our furniture removal service in 2004, and began charging for the value added service of removing furniture from our donors’ homes to support families in transition. Furniture Bank became the catalyst and intermediary for an ecosystem of giving.
As the social enterprise has grown, so has our capacity to serve even more families.
with the help of our donors, we have:
- Grown to serve over 5,000 families each year;
- Become a key player in reducing what ends up in landfills, with over 13,000 tonnes of furniture diverted each year;
- Employed and trained over 225 youth and others facing barriers to employment in our social enterprise removal service and charity.
But we continue to fight the overhead myth even today. Why is spending on overhead important?
Quite simply, we would not be able to have the impact we do without the ability to:
- Maintain, insure and run a fleet of 11 trucks, and a team of movers, picking up furniture from donors and delivering them to clients every day;
- Employ 25-30 individuals each year who would otherwise face barriers to employment;
- Pay market rent on a 30,000 Sq Ft client showroom;
- Sustain an organization with 40 hardworking and big hearted employees who:
- take orders,
- track inventory,
- book client appointments,
- schedule and complete pickups & deliveries,
- answer donor inquiries,
- process donations,
- ensure we have the right technology to run our operations, and
- undertake the numerous other tasks that must occur every day to ensure that the community’s unwanted furniture goes directly to a family transitioning out of homelessness or displacement.
All the things many donors and funders consider “overhead”.
As a social purpose enterprise and charity, social and environmental impact is at the heart of everything we do. We provide the community an opportunity to donate and ensure our neighbours have the dignity, stability and security afforded by a furnished home.
We stand up for sitting down on a chair, a good night’s sleep on a bed, and sharing family meals at a dinner table.
We know this problem is solvable, but it’s only solvable if we can connect and collect furniture from all donors and match it to recipients in need across Canada – and all of that involves “overhead”.
That’s why we are excited to partner with the Charity Defense Council on its “I’m Overhead” campaign, an initiative started by Dan Pallotta to debunk the myth that charities should be penalized by how much they spend on “overhead”. Things like rent, salaries, and infrastructure are needed to have strong social and environmental impact.
To not invest in warehouses, staff and trucks from the generous donations we receive and revenue we earn would mean an immediate negative impact on the people we are committed to serve.
We believe that spending on overhead is necessary to achieve our mission.
This is our “Overhead Manifesto”:
- We believe in outcomes and impact, not ratios.
- We believe in utilizing funds to scale up to address a growing problem.
- We believe that investing in staff, facilities and trucks will allow our donors to have a greater positive impact through us.
- We believe in sharing the stories of redemption and success that our donors’ generosity makes possible.
- We believe with the right investments in ‘overhead,’ together, we will solve the problem of too many Canadians living in unfurnished homes.
These are the stories of Furniture Bank employees that work tirelessly to help provide a better life for our community’s most vulnerable. We are overhead!