Today we’re answering reader questions. One person asks, “As the single employee of a small nonprofit, how do I prioritize the daily issues of running a nonprofit before they become “fires”.”
Thanks for asking! It’s really hard to get it all done. Nigh impossible. So resign yourself to the fact that some of it is not going to get done. And that you cannot be equally good at everything you are tasked with doing. You are going to have some things you’re naturally better at. And you should focus in your areas of strength, and get volunteers, interns, or virtual assistants to pick up the slack in other areas.
The main point is that you have too many things to do, no one could do everything you’re expected to do. You may have a super job. If this is the case, all you can do is focus on one thing at a time, and be honest with your board about what has to fall by the wayside to get one thing done properly. Multi-tasking is a myth. And you need to get as much help as you possibly can.
In terms of managing an entire nonprofit, that’s a bit trickier.
Start with your fundraising plan.
You’ve got to have enough money coming in the door to carry out the work you do. So do a fiscal check-up with your accountant and board treasurer. Where is your nonprofit at? What are your receivables? What are your payables? How fast are you burning cash? How can you cut costs and make sure your nonprofit is stable?
Once you’ve done this, you can start to look at how to keep money flowing in smoothly without a lot of effort. If I were in your position, here’s what I would do.
- Create a fundraising plan and communications calendar so you can plan backwards for each event, each appeal letter, each e-newsletter, each piece of your fundraising strategy for the whole year. I have a free webinar recording on how to create a fundraising plan right here.
- Have weekly check-ins with board and volunteers where you start and end with what is going right at your nonprofit. If you want to learn more about solutions-focused meetings and questions, check out this post about Alan Kay’s book, Fry the Monkeys.
- Make sure your communications flow smoothly, including between you and board, and you and the rest of the volunteers. Give lots of opportunities for people to ask questions. It’s important that they know what are your first priorities, second priorities, and so on. And likewise, you need to be telling them what you need to be successful, to push back on unrealistic expectations, and to know when things are coming up.
- Hold regular conference calls with major donors and stakeholders to check in about issues with your agency, with fundraising, with programs, and to also appreciate those who are doing a good job. If you communicate about what you need, you’re more likely to get it.
- Be open about your mistakes. This will make people trust you more.
- Visioning. It’s up to you to hold the vision of the nonprofit. If you’re the sole staff person, you need to keep clear on the long term vision, as well as the short-term, what needs to get done right now.
- Get help. This means one-off help with virtual assistants, as well as longer term interns or volunteer help. Recruit volunteers with idealist.org, volunteermatch.org, and corporate volunteers. Here’s more about how to find volunteers
- Start a monthly giving program.
- Get more donors and board members by doing speaking engagements. Once you connect with a corporation, you’ve got to get in front of them. Ask to speak to their marketing director, corporate responsibility officer, or brand manager. Ask them if you could come in and speak about your organization, or do a performance for their employees during their lunch hour. This is how we got our foot in the door for a small nonprofit I worked for, and it really works. You don’t want to just ask for something straight off the bat. You want to show them what you’re about. Big corporations are FULL of people who are craving deeper meaning and deeper experiences in their lives, and your nonprofit can offer that.
- When you go for your performance or speaking engagement with them, ask them if anyone would be interested in volunteering, serving on your gala committee, or even just coming to your next event. While you are there, stop by HR’s office and ask if employee volunteerism is compensated by the company. Also ask if there’s a group of employees who like to volunteer, or if they’re looking for new projects to volunteer on.
- Send out an e-newsletter at least once a month
- Cut down on the number of events you have. No more than 2 events per year.
- Start a major gifts program, name it, brand it, show major donors that you care with appreciation events.
- Look through your database and see who could be re-engaged as a donor or volunteer.
- Ask your volunteers for donations.
If you’re interested in more how to be a good nonprofit leader advice, here are some posts about that.
So you want to lead a nonprofit:
6 ways to be an effective nonprofit leader:
12 tips to be a good nonprofit leader, Shackleton Style:
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