Common Mistakes Nonprofits Make

Neglecting data

It’s all about the data. Any non-profit thrives by building and maintaining relationships with those that care. With that, you need to ensure you are collecting and building your list of supporters at every activity you do. With a bigger data set, comes increased capabilities. Start with the basics. Keep data on donors, volunteers, event attendees, donor interests, contact correspondence, etc.

Allowing apathy and negativism

Build an organization that prioritizes teamwork. It only takes one person to spoil a party. Diffuse and deflect that person. The difference between those who are difficult and divisive: You can find activities for difficult people that won’t affect other members.

Not constantly building a bench of leaders

Leaders delegate and empower others. While you can try to do as much as you can yourself, what happens when you leave the organization? How long until you burnout? As a non-profit volunteer-led organization, people are always coming and going. Build the bench. Use a working groups structure with clearly defined roles and responsibilities with a point person clearly in charge for each group. It’s essential that enough authority is given to 1 person and not simply a committee, as you’ll inevitably get bogged down. With that said, the people you put in charge should be consensus-minded and willing to mentor newcomers.

Board-level decisions?

Does your board try to solve many of the organization’s challenges at a monthly meeting? This is no way to proceed. It’s too late by then!

Boards present proposals and then a vote. Rinse and repeat. If the motion feels only half-baked or just made up at the spur of the moment or shortly before the meeting, you need to go back and look at getting these proposals made earlier in advance.

You always want to support a point-person primarily charged with the area under consideration. This is akin to sub-committees in Government. You do not need to get in the weeds as a full committee, but rather delegate and let a small group of 1-5 people form a proposal for consideration.

Your organization has a hierarchy; use the levels accordingly.

Dumping Projects On Others

Don’t let others dump their new project ideas on you, alas you already have plenty on your plate. This is especially true as an Executive Director. You have limited time and resources. Sometimes, new, energetic volunteers can be amazing idea-generators but aren’t willing to own the idea and turn it into action. How do you handle their enthusiasm? Channel it! Get the other person to break down the tasks for their project; get them to carry it out. If it’s a great idea, they will invest time to make it a success and prove their idea.

Having someone take ownership of an idea is the first step on the path to success.

Black Holes

It’s essential that all submission forms whether email or Facebook are monitored and responded to promptly. You should strive for the same day if possible. Seems extreme? Put yourself in their shoes. Every hour that goes by their desire wanes. Your delay in response says to them that they are a “low priority”.

Instead, assign a dedicated person or a team to follow up with inquiries and other prospects. Even if you can’t make a phone call right away, send them a text or email back, letting them know you appreciate their interest and you’ll be in touch soon.

Making your volunteers feel that they are the most important part of your organization is critical. They are a key cog to your operation. Nothing gives a worse impression than a black hole of silence (unreturned phone calls or emails).

Playing musical chairs with technology platforms

Technology is only as good as the people behind it. It is not a magic tool, it will not grow your organization for you. It will however, empower you to do more than you otherwise would have.

First ask, what do we need the CRM to do and can it do it? Have I fully researched and been trained on the platform or am I making assumptions about it? Because volunteers are pinched for time, you need a serious Database Administrator and a set of “super-users” well-trained on the platform to ensure it’s being championed. Just because a well-meaning volunteer knows XYZ tool and will set it up for you for free, doesn’t mean that it’ a good deal for you. Is there a plan to care and manage it?

Many systems do much of the same thing, and getting to know and understand it is the human component that must not be overlooked. Stability has a lot of benefits. Switching costs are expensive and should be a last resort after all other efforts are exhausted.

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– Tara DeSisto, Development Director

Empowering nonprofits forward

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