It is an all-too-familiar scenario when a nonprofit comes to the harsh realization that it has limited resources and manpower to effectively administer its daily operations while trying to carry out the mission and vision in an impactful way.
Some organizations are blessed to have a strategic plan and staff, but there is almost always more work to be done than the staff can execute. Other organizations have a limited staff, so the Executive Director often gets distracted by the operational fires that arise, which prevents leadership from focusing on the higher impact items such as fundraising and programming. And still other organizations have no staff, but rather they rely on volunteers to handle the workload. When this happens, Board members often end up doing administrative tasks instead of driving the growth of the organization. So, what is a nonprofit to do?
While acknowledging that there are certain functional and fundamental differences between for-profits and the not-for-profit philanthropic sector, it has become crystal clear to me over the years that a nonprofit must still be run like a business based on systematic and prudent financial and managerial practices.
So how does a company function for maximum efficiency? They have a team that handles operations, and they have a team for vision and strategy. The staff handles the day-to-day tasks while a business owner leans heavily on a variety of business specialists – lawyer, accountant, bookkeeper, marketing director, etc. – to propel the strategy and growth of the business.
As nonprofit organizations try to drive their missions, this same philosophy seems spot on. The Board, armed with business-savvy knowledge and experience, should be crafting the strategic vision and identifying how the group will achieve its mission in the most impactful way, while the operational team should be focused on the day-to-day management of the organization. Both branches require sound management and execution.
One cannot exist without the other, but there must be a separation. Far too many times, the leadership of an organization gets too involved in database management, email distribution and other operational tasks, and because their available time is spent on “keeping the lights on” rather than strategizing and goal-setting, the growth of the nonprofit stagnates because the team loses site of the bigger vision.
To ensure that you are devoting time to both aspects of your organization, we recommend the following:
1. Create an organizational to be clear about who is responsible for completing each task. One person might wear multiple hats in the chart, but a clear division of responsibility will allow staff to focus on operations and leadership to focus on mission and strategy.
2. Block out time on your calendar to regularly devote to mission and strategy. This is equivalent to the advice that small entrepreneurs are repeatedly given: “work on your business, not in your business.” Nonprofit leaders need to be intentional about carving out time for creating maximum impact for their organizations.
3. Hold a Board retreat annually to re-evaluate the goals of the organization and determine if the strategy in place is the right one for achieving your mission. Now more than ever, nonprofits need to constantly evaluate where they are going and how they are going to get there. When the Board is clear about the direction of the organization, the staff can execute the daily operations in a more meaningful way.
4. Review staff assignments to ensure that staff time is being used for maximum value. Certain tasks are crucial to daily operations, so review staff assignments to ensure that staff time is being used for maximum value, while volunteers can handle other tasks. Be clear which items in your organization need the dependability and reliability of a staff member or an outsourcing partner versus which tasks can be effectively handled by volunteers who may or may not be as reliable as staff.
5. And insure that you have enough leaders on your Board. Some people are doers and they will naturally gravitate to the daily operational tasks, while others are leaders who will help your organization be all that it can be. Every organization needs both types of people for success, but be sure you have the right people in the right seats.
At the end of the day, if you and your leadership get all caught up in the daily task of running your nonprofit, the very community you are trying to serve will suffer. For maximum success in your organization, make sure you have a plan that allows you to focus on operations and strategy as two separate, but vitally necessary parts of the equation.