Overhead has become a four letter word in the nonprofit and funding communities and is attached to all sorts of negative connotations. Overhead’s status as the ugly stepchild of doing good may be deserved in some instances, but it is also critical to the survival of an organization and dismissing it out-of-hand as something that should always be minimized is too simplistic an approach. Maybe “critical infrastructure” isn’t the word choice your organization would gravitate towards, but it pays to take the time to consider the words you use and whether they convey the proper meaning and value.
I can think of other words I’ve seen used in annual reports and similar documents that are frequently left unexplained to the reader. It’s vital to remember that a reader likely brings his/her own preconceived notions into the reading of your organization’s documents. For example, “fundraising related expenses” is commonly one of the budget items found in a pie graph illustrating yearly expenses. Left unexplained that broad, indeterminate choice of words lets the reader come to their own conclusions, which could leave them thinking that piece of the pie paid only for wining and dining corporate sponsors. That’s probably not the conclusion you want them to come to; however, you haven’t left them much alternative other than to make up their own story, because the words are so unclear and there’s no accompanying explanation. This could be a great chance to introduce the people who do your organization’s fundraising tasks and even tell a story about how that piece of the pie gets used. Similar to “overhead” perhaps “fundraising related expenses” is a phrase in need of a makeover. Maybe incorporating words like sustainability, support, or outreach would do a better job of explaining this budget area.
You can probably think of other words/phrases your organization uses that could use some deeper thought and consideration. Take some time with board members, staff, volunteers, and those being served by your nonprofit to brainstorm and discuss. This is the sort of project that, once you put the idea in people's heads, they will keep thinking about and come back with new ideas over time. Whatever you do—new words, explanations, or both—take control of your organization’s narrative and help the reader, who is hopefully a potential donor, volunteer, or advocate, understand how your organization responsibly stewards its funds to maximize its impact.