5 Things Nonprofit Organizations Can Do To Maximize Productivity

Philip Manzano • Aug 10, 2016

Developing a few key habits can help you tackle productivity hurdles that may be holding you back. The post 5 Things Nonprofit Organizations Can Do To Maximize Productivity appeared first on Keela.

Cultivating a work environment that keeps your staff motivated and provides them with the tools to succeed is a necessity.

This is especially true in a sector where many are overworked and underpaid. This, of course, has special significance for nonprofit organizations that often have a global reach, but small core teams. The need to maximize impact on a tight budget is the name of the game.

We’re also a small team working on a big problem and we, too, have team members around the world. In short, we understand the struggle of small, scattered teams. Therefore, based on our own experiences, and those of the nonprofits we work with, we’ve compiled a list of habits that enable efficient and effective teamwork.

1. Find partners.

It’s no secret that collaboration is a key component of social good work. Partners on the ground, especially abroad, add an element of expertise that can contribute greatly to your understanding of local customs and context. We’ve seen this approach applied by a grassroots education  organization operating out of New York City. Their programming focuses on women’s education initiatives in South India. What’s key here, is that their leadership made a deliberate decision to develop programming in partnership with local NGOs in Madurai and Hyderabad. Suffice it to say, this was a successful approach because the cultural context was understood by those designing the programs. Today, this partnership operates four education centres for young women and girls, having grown from just one location in 2002.

To further underscore the importance of a collaborative approach, we asked our partner organizations to give us their top tips for working with partners. Their feedback fell into two primary buckets:

First, before solidifying a partnership, hit pause and see how compatible your teams truly are. Always keep in mind the importance of organizational culture and communication style. For example, try to understand early on how they measure accountability. How do they deal with deadlines? Do they work during set hours during the day? Do they use any productive technology? Ultimately, spend some time looking into if your respective work values align before starting projects together.

Second, we’re told that it’s important to remember that once a partnership has been developed, to emphasize maintaining an open, honest, and regular line of communication. Setting guidelines at the beginning of any relationship with your partners is key. Look into finding an effective medium through which to collaborate, as it will help your teams organize thoughts and stay accountable. This can include something as simple as a weekly email check-in, or even the shared adoption of productive tools that facilitate teamwork.

2.  Adopt multi-purpose productive tools. 

Implementing technology can be daunting. Once you’ve selected tools, getting your teams to buy and use the technology can feel like pulling teeth. It’s hard to convince people to add yet another system to an already cluttered personal tech landscape. This is where multi-purpose tools come in. Find a single easy-to-use tool that automates work and decreases the need to learn additional platforms. For example, a project manager that also has marketing capabilities can be a significant time saver.

Similarly, look for a system that lets you organize internal chatter within your teams and external communication. We live in an age where there is a plethora of productive technology to choose from, spend some time looking for what system may best suit your staff and work culture. Don’t fear the machine!

3.  Have a plan and share it.

People are naturally more engaged and motivated to succeed if they know what to expect and what to aim for. It helps them understand how they are an important piece of an important plan. By clearly outlining a grand vision to your staff, you can help them orient themselves and adjust their personal work goals to work in sync with your operation’s overall rhythm.

Defining short-term goals can encourage an entire team to remain cognizant of the targets that are within reach and those that need more work. A practical implementation of this tip is to invest in a productive platform that allows for workflow transparency. Our partner organizations tend to favour software designed to provide quick departmental overviews of tasks and projects because this helps scattered teams stay aware, involved, and motivated. This lockstep, collective march towards common goals encourages a truly engaged environment where all parties involved feel like a valued part of a well-oiled machine.

4.  Make data-driven decisions.

Being able to make decisions, adjust, and re-adjust according to cold, hard fact is a real asset. It leaves guessing to a minimum. The numbers can tell you, with little doubt, what is working and what can work better. For nonprofit organizations, this can mean anything from tracking your donor acquisition cost to knowing the churn rate for the new contributors you do acquire. It can also mean knowing how well you are doing with outreach. How many recipients on your monthly mailing list even opened the newsletter you worked so hard to put together? Data can tell you that. Come to think of it, are your newsletters going straight to the spam folder? Data can tell you that, too.

It’s all about finding the tools that help you pull the facts and figures you need to make your best decisions. If your newsletter isn’t being opened often enough, try changing the email’s subject next month. Does this spur more interest? Measure the data feedback you receive and re-adjust if necessary. Similarly, if your donor churn is high, see if sending your constituents more updates helps to boost engagement. Essentially, if you measure it, you’ll be able to make more effective decisions.

5.  Take care of your people!

People are the backbone of the social good sector. So it should come as no surprise that your best bet for success is a happy team. These are the folks in the trenches with you day in and day out. Many people either take a pay cut to work in the nonprofit sector or are chronically underpaid. This means that their primary motivation is often to do good. As such, when high salaries and comprehensive benefits are not a possibility, management should emphasize personal and professional development.  

At the beginning of a team member’s tenure, make a concerted effort to understand what the individual wishes to get out of the position. What are the skills they want to develop? How are they looking to grow? Every opportunity, within reason, should be taken to incorporate these needs into an individual’s work plan. It is also key that these work plans are revisited regularly to ensure that outlined skill development goals are being met. A team that knows that its leadership truly cares about individual growth is more motivated and, by extension, more productive.

These tips have served us well on our journey as a startup focused on social good and we hope that they will do the same for you.