In every community there exists a gap between defined problems and well-matched solutions. In thriving communities, these voids are filled by charitable nonprofits. Effective nonprofits bring together staff and volunteers, powered by donors who share their vision.
As an organization we have collective shared experience in nonprofit fundraising, leadership, board membership, program development and start up. We’ve seen nonprofits thrive, and we’ve watched them crumble to pieces. We’ve seen truly effective nonprofits and we’ve watched others waste valuable time and money.
And even in outwardly effective nonprofits, there are 5 common pitfalls that can lead to devastating consequences if they aren’t identified and managed:
Lack of clearly defined roles and responsibilities
Overworked and underpaid….. The unspoken mantra of nearly every nonprofit. And while, to some degree it’s healthy to have employees who are more missionally driven and less focused on making money, lack of clearly defined roles and responsibilities is a recipe for bitterness, resentment and toxicity.
Like most issues, the intention and root of this issue is not based out of malice or ill-will toward employees, but rather a survival mode that comes as a result of counting every dollar, and, in some cases, trying to artificially hold your admin rate as low as possible to prove to donors you are worth it.
Staff in organizations without clearly defined roles often feel they are somehow simultaneously doing too much and not enough. They work endless hours and yet see all the voids they are not filling. This is unbelievably disheartening and can lead to excessive turnover in key positions, which only serves to perpetuate this mission-killing cycle.
A few ways you can fix this:
No mission or “why”
It’s simply not enough to create a boilerplate mission statement. Nonprofit work is emotive and donors desperately want to feel connected and necessary. Your why not only provides that emotional connection to donors, but speaks to who you are as a team.
Why statements help guide you as you look to expand your team, and inform you when team members may need to be removed.
How to fix it:
Vision, but no execution
Nonprofit attrition rate is outrageous. Almost everyone wants to make a difference and oftentimes the best ideas come out of an overflow of passion. This is great, but it takes more than just passion to build a nonprofit that truly impacts the community, and addresses problems in a meaningful way.
A few tips:
Duplicative efforts and lack of collaboration
Work together! There are likely hundreds, if not thousands of nonprofits in your area. Each community has a finite pool of donors and resources and if we’re constantly competing with each other for the same resources, we’re cannibalizing at the expense of those who actually need our help.
So how do we solve that?
Mediocrity as a baseline for success
Because we’re tied to every dollar, this is so easy to slip into. Bad websites, dated collateral – and keeping staff on because we feel bad for them. Goals and objectives are replaced by flimsy metrics such as: “people like her a lot” or “clients trust him.”
What you put out matters, because the work you’re doing today has the potential to make an impact for generations to come…… so what you’re doing now should reflect that.
Beyond that, mediocrity doesn’t attract donors. Sure, some may like that you live on nothing; but most will be agitated at your awful donation portal, rude employee, and broken systems.
Some quick tips:
But here’s the reality….. Sometimes it’s really difficult to self-diagnose. Most nonprofits have leadership that have been there for decades and struggle to look objectively at their business. We know that, and we understand how challenging it can be to give an honest and constructive assessment. And hear us when we say constructive. Because being able to pinpoint doesn’t help you much, does it?
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