Mennonite Heritage Village

Shoestring, Rope, or Cable?

December 8, 2022

By Gary Dyck

In the 1980s it became popular for charities to try to outdo one another by showcasing how little of their funding went to overhead. Remember the pie charts and the breakdown of where each cent of your dollar goes? It’s not that simple.

As the Executive Director of Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV), I have the privilege of connecting with museum leaders across the province, including hosting last week’s gathering for the Eastman and Interlake museums. I see that the museums that have the most impact are the ones with a mid-size overhead. When it comes to dealing with humanity, a shoestring budget is not best.

A shoestring non-profit has an operations board and maybe one or two permanent staff (like MHV in the early 1980s), and disorganized volunteers. Their overhead is low, but so is their ability to pursue funding opportunities, maintain their facilities, and plan engaging programming. If a key person leaves or a narcissist takes over the board, the string may snap. Many small museums are here.

A rope non-profit has a governance board, a small team of permanent professionals, and an organized volunteer base. If these three strands are healthy, you’ll have a vibrant non-profit. Their overhead is medium, but the staff can get a high amount of funding through grants, donor relations, and creative revenue streams. They may be stretched, but they can also develop amazing exhibits and events that keep attracting visitors. Rope non-profits can grow each year and flex to the needs and opportunities around them. Small, mid-size, and even some large-size museums can be found here.

A cable non-profit has a distant governance board, a large group of permanent professionals, and restrained volunteers. These strong institutions can become bureaucratic and unwieldy. Their overhead is large, but generally have the funding they need thanks to government support. The people involved may feel they don’t have much ‘wiggle-room’ for their work. Unhealthy mid-size and large-size museums can be found here, while some healthy large museums can make it work.

So this year, as you consider your financial giving, remember that a non-profit with a shoestring budget is probably not something to be excited about. There is a sweet spot where the right ropiness of overhead makes for an effective organization. At MHV, I believe we are at that place. I’m so thankful for the vision of our predecessors to move MHV towards a governance board and hire professional staff so that MHV could fulfill its vision of being ‘the premier interpretive centre for the Russian Mennonite story’. It is now my job to make sure we remain a robust rope and not become a cumbersome cable. Please consider a donation to MHV this year. This rope has much good to do!

Upcoming Events:

MHV Village Books & Gifts shop and Galleries are open Tuesday to Saturday, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. The grounds are available for strolling (heritage buildings are closed).

Winter Day Camp Registration Now Open December 28-30. Children ages 6 – 11 are invited to experience winter at the Mennonite Heritage Village! There will be skating, crafts, sleigh rides, and so much more!

Winter in the Village, December 16 & 17 – Experience Winter in the Village at MHV! Bring your friends and family to MHV for skating, snowshoeing, kick sledding, and so much more! Be enchanted by the village light show, skate along Main Street, or on the ice rink! Explore the grounds with our snowshoes or kicksleds. A warming hut will be open for visitors. More to come in January! Sign up for our newsletter for more info.

Exhibit opening: “Resurfacing: Mennonite Floor Patterns,” January 18, 2023, 7 pm – Join artist Margruite Krahn for a presentation followed by a Q&A and exhibit opening.

12 Deals of Christmas November 15 – December 22 Every Tuesday and Thursday, check out our social media posts or our website at for some wonderful deals leading up to the Holiday Season!