Engagement Marketing

Working Smarter, Not Harder: A Nonprofit Case Study (Part 1)

Picture this: You’re the head of a relatively new nonprofit serving a community need with a small, dedicated staff and board. In just a few years, you experience major growth in your activities and accomplishments. Such success, however, is a mixed blessing: work demands have grown faster than your human and financial resources. In addition, the more you do and the more successful you are, the more others expect you to do.

How do you continue to serve the community’s growing needs with increasingly limited resources?

The challenge of coping with how to do more with less is twofold. On one hand, nonprofits have to guard against potential burnout when staff members are pulled in too many directions. On the other hand, mission-driven organizations have a hard time saying no.

Several of my clients found themselves in this situation, and how they effectively dealt with it may be helpful to others. In this “case study” to be covered in three posts, I’ll share the experience of several affiliates of a healthcare-related nonprofit who learned how to manage their success by working smarter, not harder. To maintain confidentiality, I’ll call this nonprofit ABC Healthcare.

With a broad-based mission and regional scope, each ABC Healthcare affiliate – ranging in age of operation from four to 10 years – was challenged to respond to its area’s diverse healthcare needs while not spreading itself too thin. They were initially funded by government grants, so their budgets were variable (never knowing how much they would get or when they would get it).

To cope with growing demands and limited resources, they followed three vital steps:

  1. Stay focused on the mission.
  2. Inventory your organization’s program offerings.
  3. Clarify and communicate your organization’s role.

Step 1: Stay focused on the mission

Regardless of how long a nonprofit has been operating, it’s a good idea to keep the “big picture” in mind by focusing on the mission. Why? Because the mission describes your organization’s purpose and reason for being.

ABC Healthcare affiliate staff regularly revisited the organization’s mission to: 1) ensure they were on target, and 2) guard against fragmenting their focus to avoid overextending manpower and other critical resources.

In routine meetings or special planning sessions, staff members placed high priority on mission “fit” when evaluating requests to participate in new or ongoing programs. Any requests that didn’t directly fit with the mission were turned down.

While using the mission as a touchstone is a no-brainer, the reality is staff in small nonprofits can lose focus because their jobs involve multiple and time-consuming roles (such as outreach and development) beyond their primary responsibility.

Starting with the mission is an important first step in working smarter, not harder. But by itself, it is not enough as I’ll explain in my next post. So stay tuned.

Engagement Marketing

Gaining Employee Support through a New Type of Journalism

[2014 update: the following content still resonates, although the original links in this post were removed because they are no longer available.]

Here’s a fascinating concept to add to your internal marketing & communications toolbox: Workplace Journalism — “a conscious effort to make employee communications at least partly about employees and their concerns, not just the business and its issues.”

I learned about this from Barry Nelson, who believes business communicators can have a positive impact by adding more “empathetic, employee-advocacy journalism … into their otherwise business-results focused reportorial mix.”

He recommends that in addition to communicating corporate strategy, goals, progress & results, (which employees need to know), companies should also share stories of how employees cope with on-the-job issues & stresses (which employees want to know). According to Barry, we need to give “at least some prominence to our employees’ human concerns” such as “how and why to get along with the boss, make friends on the job, cope with stress, live the brand, be a good teammate, and other aspects of a satisfactory work life.”

The Pay-Off

This isn’t just ‘feel-good’ communications for the heck of it. Organizations that share these types of stories demonstrate their care and concern for employees, and this contributes to a strong sense of employee commitment and loyalty in turn.

To learn more, check out Barry’s guidance on getting started with Workplace Journalism.