There is a painful growing trend in the charitable sector for organizations to do more with even less. We’re seeing far too many professionals on sick leave, far too much turnover and not enough hours in the day to get everything done. It seems like the more we do, the more there is to do. We’re in a constant state of busy-ness, with never ending to-do lists. Everything is moving at such a rapid pace in a 24/7 world, it’s enough to make your head spin.
What if we decided to do less, but do it better?
This is an approach we’ve successfully worked on with dozens of clients and the results are amazing.
Organizations often take on more projects and programs than they can manage. Ambitions are often greater than the means. Here are three ways, among others in our toolbox, that we found help organizations find peace and productivity in doing less but doing better:
Open and honest communication in planning
By democratizing the strategic planning approach, organizations are able to include their staff and volunteers who work on the frontlines, as well as board members and executive team members who ensure good governance and leadership. When everyone around the table speaks honestly about where the organization is going and how it’s going to get there, more realistic goals can be set and everyone moves forward with more clarity and confidence. We’ve facilitated dozens of team meetings and our clients attest to the value of having an outside moderator to help things along.
“Going with an external firm allows to have a neutral and professional person’s point of view, and helps temper the emotions that can arise during this kind of exercise. Because resources are often limited in-house, it allows all participants, including the staff, to participate fully and contribute at the same level as the others without having to worry about note taking or to summarize the ideas. Hiring experts also helps uncover dormant ideas. Not-for-profits have so many financial constraints so our first reflex is to take the path of least spending. However, I am convinced that this strategy unfortunately does not achieve the desired objectives. It is important to invest in the organization’s future, to surround yourself with experts and not hesitate to ask for help to achieve your desired goals.” – Edith Lalanne, Executive Director, Fondation québécoise de la maladie coeliaque
Stop creating temporary fixes for larger issues
“When projects are launched to provide limited fixes to significant problems, the result can be a proliferation of initiatives, none of which may adequately deal with root causes” as stated by Rose Hollister and Michael D. Watkins in their article Too Many Projects, is what we see far too often in the charitable sector. Organizations often dodge systemic issues because they feel too big to overcome. Too much bureaucracy, too many egos involved, or too many rose-coloured glasses at the table. An honest look at what is really holding your organization back and finding the courage and strategy to create change is a worthwhile investment of time and resources.
Being able to say no to opportunities is not something that comes naturally to not-for-profit organizations. Again, this comes back to having a strong plan. When you know what you want to yes to, you also learn what to say no to. Executive directors are plagued by well intentioned board members, volunteers and staff who all want to “help” with new ideas. However, if these new ideas don’t align with the organization’s goals, it’s more of a burden than help. It can take the organization off course, suck up already thin resources and create the opposite of the intended impact.
Organizations must learn how to prioritize their actions and learn what to cut. With each new idea, ask yourselves two questions:
- Will the project/program/initiative have a positive impact on the organization or its beneficiaries?
- Does it have a positive impact on our culture?
When you answer honestly and challenge yourselves consistently, you’ll begin to escape taking on too many projects. It takes discipline, rigor and guts to pair things down but your organization will be stronger for it. Funders and donors will respect you for it because they’ll see that the money they are investing in your organization is being well managed and not being spread too thin.
If you’d like to learn how to set priorities, focus energy and set a clear path forward for your organization, be sure to reach out to our team, we’re here to help!