Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Too Busy to Work

I'm a member of a couple different groups of EDs who get together, email, and/or call to support each other. A theme that isn't uncommon is that we are all too busy. The date stamp of my last posting in this blog is evidence of that.

Non-profit executives and staff seem to face an eternal uphill battle. They are asked to do the most with funds raised, spend little or nothing on their own compensation and admin needs, and constantly be grateful to have a job that fulfills a "purpose." You know, because buying groceries for yourself and watching an occasional movie on the one weekend you have free all year isn't enough of a purpose...

If you sense an irritated tone in that last statement, your spidey senses are correct! Lately I have simply felt too busy to actually work. I am functioning too much to function well. When the leader of an organization doesn't feel like they're functioning well, it's only a matter of time until that trickles down to the staff and constituents. It's a perilous place to be.

So what do we do about it (besides complain on a blog and buy wine by the box)?

Well I'm a fan of process. I think most things can be processed into better efficiency and personnel time is no exception. I've recently been in talks with my colleagues at GMCW about how we can all better focus on our core roles and delegate the rest. Let me say that again - delegate. Typically, people who work for non-profits have a stake in the mission, want to be ever-present, and don't know how to give up control (myself included). Well, to quote a very tired song..."let it go."

As a staff, we have come up with a rough chart of our core roles, identified what we are doing regularly that doesn't fit into that, and tried to assign it elsewhere. Sometimes that means just giving it up, or entrusting others with what has always been done in-house. In one case, that means we hired an outside accountant. In another, we elevated a number of volunteers to roles that they may not have been prepared for but certainly don't mind doing in their free time. And in one particular case (that is still pending board approval), we are making the argument that it's time for more staff. I know I know...spending more money on salaries? We're clearly going to non-profit hell for that.

In all seriousness, it's important to realize that capacity is a very fixed asset. It can be increased or decreased in only a couple ways and when you've maxed it out, you'll see the result everywhere - on the balance sheet, in morale, and in Board engagement. If, like me, you find yourself too busy to work, take a step back for a day (literally leave the office), look at the big picture, call up your board chair, and make some decisions.

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