3 Sad Stories about Your Non-Profit

March 07, 2010

Posted in General, Management, and Technology.

“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” Desiderius Erasmus

The Land of the Blind

Let’s make a generalization: If you work for a non-profit organization, you are living in the past. You’re doing something outdated, for reasons you can’t quite articulate, and at an unknown cost – especially consider the opportunity cost of doing something less efficient.

Fortunately for you, the eager non-profiteer, so is everyone else. Here are three stories (no names, to save face) of non-profits that might sound familiar:

Tools: the Legacy Computer

Apple-IIe by http://www.flickr.com/photos/mwichary/2179435339/

In 2006, one organization I knew had a very old computer sitting in the corner of the office. It served one purpose: to host a very old piece of donor management software on a very old operating system. Only one person knew how to use this software, and it wasn’t very helpful anyway. Not only that, but it was increasingly difficult to support the failing hardware. There were dozens of opportunities to upgrade or find a new system over the course of about a decade. The cost to the organization was measured in lots of time and the occasional hardware replacement.

Professional Development: It’s Getting Worse Every Day

“If you aren’t getting better, you’re getting worse.” Executives, employees, and board members need to invest some portion of their time in professional development to get better at what they do, or they’ll soon find themselves incompetent. Worse yet, they won’t even know they’re incompetent.

homer sapien on Flickr - Photo Sharing!.jpg

A large non-profit had very low turnover, which meant that hundreds of its employees had been in essentially the same job for 15+ years. These employees were more likely to be unhappy, but wouldn’t quit their jobs. They weren’t let go because they were technically doing their work, but they weren’t providing the value of their more engaged, productive counterparts. This meant that the more engaged employees were more likely to get assignments, sometimes overworking them. The cost to the organization is in lost opportunities, some unnecessary overtime, and higher turnover of the best employees.

Process: File, Print, Repeat

Abacus by http://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/3378700109/

A few years ago, another organization needed to print about 900 letters to fold, stuff, and mail to constituents. One of the staff members dedicated an entire day to hitting File > Print and then printing a single copy. Once it was printed, she did this again. Two down. After a whole day of the most inefficient software use I’ve ever heard of, someone found out and pointed out that she could just hit File > Print and enter the quantity to print out. The cost to the organization was 7+ hours of this employee’s time, and the cost of her pay.

Be the King

Nearly every non-profit is under-resourced and over-burdened, leaving no time or money to invest in new tools, professional development, re-evaluating their processes, and so on.

What these non-profits rarely realize is that they could save money and time by investing in those resources. There’s an ROI on many of these things, and it’s worth investigating.

It doesn’t take much to gain a tremendous advantage over other organizations while freeing up your own resources. There are tons of ways to do it: books, seminars, networking, and lots of online options:

Tip: If you’re new to reading blogs or you can’t find time to keep up with them check out my Feed Reader 101 post on how to keep tabs on thousands of articles each month in as little time as possible.

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