How many hats have you worn in your Nonprofit organization?

Tasi Gottschlag • Dec 12, 2019

Wearing multiple hats seems like a badge of honor in today’s nonprofit. Small and growing organizations are usually run by passionate, dedicated, and capable individuals who take on far more than they would in a formal role.

Are you wearing more hats than you expected? Managing finances, donors, operations, and well, almost everything? In this post, I want to help you take a step back and remember what matters. I have been where you are and it’s easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day and feels like you are just managing to tread above water, but never getting ahead. 

As the COO of a growing technology company, my perspective may be slightly different. But let’s face it! You are an entrepreneur, building something from nothing and growing an organization with many moving pieces. 

I recently picked up a book that has given me the perspective I need to take off a few of my many hats and refocus on what matters most. The book Essentialism, by Greg McKeown, discusses the idea that to be truly effective, we need to focus on the things that matter. 

This may seem obvious, but when explored, it can make all the difference in your world. It did in mine. I was the queen of efficiency before I picked up this book; with two kids under four, a full-time career, and an aging pup that required a little extra care, I felt like treading water was all I could do. I made efficiency my goal. Everything I did had to be done fast, and I usually did 10 things at once to ensure it all got done. Then I read a phrase in Essentialism and my entire spinning, the efficient world stopped for a moment. 

“Focus on being effective rather than efficient.” 

Here I had always assumed efficiency was the highest goal but wasn’t being effective far more important? I hadn’t considered that! Was I being efficient at things that didn’t matter? I turned the page, excited about my revelation. I needed to know more.

The first step Greg discusses is practicing saying no to the things you already know are not furthering your goals. The things you say yes to, just to avoid conflict. The “I can just fire that off” tasks that take less time for you to do than they would delegate. Stop doing these. While they may take only a few moments, they use your valuable energy. Your energy is the most important asset for you to protect. So start here, say no to these things, give yourself permission to disappoint a few people, and get back to being effective.

So how do you decide what projects matter? What tasks are essential to you achieving your goals? Taking the time to select the right project is infinitely more effective than just doing all the projects. You’ll find that over time, you will get better at discerning what you should invest your precious energy in. But to do that, you must start by making trade-offs. Ask yourself what happens if you simply stop doing that. Seriously, what would really happen?

If you are always working, doing, and achieving, you leave no time for thinking! Stop! Take a minute (or 60) to explore the options available to you. You need to give yourself space, room, and perspective to choose the right path and the right projects that will advance you toward your goals. 

A person who is overworked stressed, and running on 5-6 hours of sleep has the same impairments as someone who is moderately drunk! Do you do your best work when you are drunk? I certainly don’t! Protect your energy, your mind, and your ability to prioritize by getting the right sleep, rest, nutrition, and play. 

Once you get the hang of Essentialism, you will do half the things you are doing today and get double the results.

So how do you decide what is essential? Like anything, this skill takes practice, but it begins with how you assess the information you already have. Always consider your ultimate goals – your North Star – and then consider what information you really need to solve the big problems. 

Here is an example: you know you need to increase donations by a whopping 50% if you hope to help everyone you have promised this year. Where do you start? Is raising funds your main goal? Or is it getting money to help those you are committed to? 

Take a step back. Donations are important, but are there other ways to get the funds? Other ways to get the tasks done? Could volunteers do some of the work you are raising funds to hire for? Without thinking through these elements, you may launch into an extensive donor outreach program before you determine what the best use of your time and energy is. 

Do you spend a day each week on administration, to ensure compliance? How much more could you raise if you spent that day doing donor stewardship instead? Are there other ways to ensure compliance? These are the questions you need to ask to begin being effective instead of merely efficient.

In Greg’s book, he explores far more and in far more detail and if you aren’t sure yet, I highly recommend reading it. But if you just need a pit stop to collect your thoughts and remind yourself what really matters, come back to that one key statement: “Focus on being effective rather than being efficient.” 

Take a few of your many hats off and decide which ones are getting you to where you want to go. Then double down, make that “hat” the most important, and excel on that task. 

Everyone has 24 hours in their day, what will you achieve with yours?