I've worked in the social impact sector for my entire career. As much as I often believe that I should have gotten an MBA directly out of undergrad, that wasn't the path I ended up taking and over the last 12 years I have observed and learned a tremendous amount about effective management and leadership. At the time the 2012 Non-Profit Almanac was published there were 1,537,465 registered nonprofits in America. With such a wide variety of missions and focus it can be assumed that they vary widely in their degree of excellence and efficiency. That said, no matter if you are working in a new organization and building your first board, or have been around since the turn of the century and are working to ensure your relevancy, in a nonprofit there is always much to be done. And often times, it feels like too much.
If you've worked in a nonprofit in the past or currently work in one, you know that the way you manage your resources (people, goods and time) is a critical determinant of your success. How you prioritize dramatically impacts your fate. For most, the idea of adding more to do is overwhelming, which is why I believe that discontinuing just three things can change absolutely everything.
1. Don't just hire, on-board your staff.
Warren Buffett says to hire for integrity first and foremost hire for integrity, intelligence and energy. If you are able to hire someone who meets this criterion, the first 90 days are critical, not for them, but for your institution. As an employer, the first 90 days of your new employee's time with your company is an opportunity to provide three critical understandings: (1) What is my job? (2) Do I have the tools to do my job? and (3) Does my supervisor care about me? These critical questions explored by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman in the game-changing book, First Break All the Rules, can be answered through an on-boarding and orientation program that extends beyond a slide show or single appointment into a program that includes meetings, multi-media materials and review to ensure information is being absorbed.
2. Stop raising money and start making friends.
Money is one of the most taboo subjects that we all must deal with on a daily basis. Asking for money causes most people to shrink in fear and step away. Too often fundraising (or nonprofit business development) is thought of as something that's about money. It's not. It's about relationships. When you learn about raising money for political campaigns, nonprofits or personal projects, one of the first things you learn is that you need to ask all the people you are closest to first. That is not because it's fun, but because people give to people. By focusing on engaging people interested in your work as people, i,e. by telling stories and sharing you work, you invite them to get more involved and to ultimately prompt the question "how can I help?" If you're struggling to raise funds, pause and ask yourself whether you've really developed relationships or just emails in a spreadsheet.
3. Just say no.
Whenever I walk into a nonprofit and see offices covered in paper and cardboard boxes stacked to the ceiling, not only am I immediately concerned about its knowledge management systems (or lack thereof), I am also concerned about its level of efficiency. Working smarter, not harder, is a foreign concept to many of us because it's not something that is easy to see. If someone is working until 8:00 p.m. every day, we assume they are working hard when, in fact, they may simply be inefficient. If your organization consistently feels that it's merely churning its wheels, or staff is exhausted, it is time to pause and assess. Before taking on any new initiatives it is valuable to check in on agency capacity and make honest and sometimes challenging decisions. The ability to say "no" can save you from years of exhaustion. Take a moment to assess. Be brave and speak up. Remember, as my father taught me when I was a kid, its quality over quantity that counts.