nonprofit use

Important Jobs in a Nonprofit

This blog post continues a recent blog post about nonprofit positions.

Nonprofit employees are categorized as operations (general overhead) or programs (specific to accomplishing the mission). I’m writing about the operations side since program people are unique to each nonprofit.

The most important employee is the executive director. However, many nonprofits have no other operations employee, which is wrong. One person cannot do everything. A nonprofit should have, at a minimum, three other employees.

  1. An office manager who oversees the day-to-day running of the office like a second in command. There are too many daily issues occurring for an executive director to manage alone.
  2. A volunteer coordinator who manages all the volunteers. There must be a person to make sure the volunteers are happy, which can be a daunting task.
  3. A grant writer who helps bring in the money. Many nonprofits fold this duty into the executive director’s job. But nonprofits who fill this job usually are better funded.

[I didn’t include a finance manager because these duties can be handled by the office manager or grant writer. With a single mission, there are software programs to help. With multiple missions, hiring a company to run the finances is easier.]

These three listed positions can be part time, but they must be paid positions. People are more invested in the nonprofit if it is their job.

Many times, these three positions are left vacant to keep operation expenses low. As a result, people from the programs side become drawn into doing operations work, worsening the problem on both sides. Even board members become involved with operations.

A nonprofit should look at itself like a business and hire those who would make it a success. Don’t pretend things are working out. They usually aren’t.

Professional versus Volunteer Grant Writer

There are two types of grant writers—someone paid by the nonprofit and one who is not (a volunteer).

I’m a volunteer grant writer which means I provide my services without compensation. But I know professional grant writers who each formed a company and are paid for their services.

Professional grant writers are paid either hourly or by a set fee. Whether the nonprofit gets the grant or not, the grant writer gets paid. The other way is for the grant writer to get about ten percent of the awarded amount. If the grant is not awarded, the grant writer does not get paid.

There is a long list of pros and cons for these two methods of pay. The grant writers I know are paid an hourly rate. I was involved in one situation where the grant writer was paid a percentage of the award.

Personally, I would rather pay the grant writer up front for their services. I feel the nonprofit has the best control of the grant writers’ work such as selecting the foundation. In the other situation, the nonprofit had almost no input into the application and the grant writer only submitted grants to places they were fairly certain of success (and getting paid).

Yes, it seems easier with a greater chance for success to pay a grant writer a percentage of the award amount. But reality can be much different after the grant is awarded. Having control might be easier and not all grants are good for the nonprofit.

Of course, whether a nonprofit pays for a grant writer or not depends on whether they have the money to do so. Many times, the nonprofit’s staff and management write the grants. In another blog post, I’ll explain why bringing on a grant writer, paid or volunteer, is as necessary as paying a volunteer coordinator (and doable).

Motivation Between Staff and Volunteers

Who is more motivated toward the nonprofit’s mission—paid staff or volunteers? I see them both as having different yet equal motivations.

Salaries are one of the highest expenses in nonprofits and they do not survive without volunteers. While vital to keeping labor costs down, nonprofits should not be all volunteers. There needs to be paid staff for stability and who bring a different motivation to nonprofits.

There is no right answer to what this mix of staff and volunteers should be (cost is a factor, of course). I think the best way to manage the two groups is to have a clear separation of job duties. This is true for any business, and it helps everyone to know their role and the roles of others. Just keep the job duties simple.

The most important part of managing staff and volunteers is paying attention to the dynamics of what motivates each group. To staff, it is a paying job (although little pay). To a volunteer and sometimes staff, it is a desire to help and be involved.

I have seen executive directors have weekly staff meetings, but never meet any of the volunteers. I’ve listened to volunteers say how they never met the executive director or the people working in the nonprofit.

It is up to the executive director and volunteer coordinator to make sure staff and volunteers know about each other. And not only through a newsletter. It could be just a meet-and-greet that takes a few minutes. The more people who feel a part of an organization, the more they are motivated to do their best.

Staff and volunteers may bring different talents and motivations, but they are equally important to the success of any nonprofit.

2021 Grant Writing Goals

In my last blog, I explained my creative writing goals for the year. This blog is how I set my grant writing goals. I’m more specific with the grants.

I have created a spreadsheet and listed all the foundations I plan to submit throughout the year. This spreadsheet includes the foundation’s name and contact information, such as the website and a point of contact. It also includes what focus areas the foundation had last year. More importantly, the spreadsheet includes the date when the application opens and closes.

Every grant writer and nonprofit manager should develop a yearly list of grant applications with this information. I have seen some managers’ list on a white board or written in a notebook with only the closing date. The list needs to be more than this.

It should have enough information so a nonprofit manager knows at a glance what the focus areas are, the dates, and where to access the application (e.g. the website). The staff should have access so they know when supporting data is needed.

Some people set a date when to start the application, at a point before the grant opens. I do not do this. I wait until the application goes live.

Foundations may change things and a grant writer could waste time using a previous application. I wait until the application goes live, so I am sure what is required.

One key to successful grant writing is organization and planning and keeping a list helps. I have seen nonprofits miss a deadline and a good chance at money because they forgot to submit the grant request. Don’t forget to make a list of grants for the year. When everything is spread out, the possibility of all that funding builds hope.