nonprofit use

A Nonprofit’s Need for Stability

Nonprofit operations need to continue in a consistent manner each time and every day. Without this stability, mistakes occur and, when a problem happens, the people struggle for a solution.

Most of the time, nonprofits (and other organizations) rely on people staying in their same position over time to maintain stability. Unfortunately, when these people leave, the operations must be relearned. This costs time and other resources and could be a significant point of failure in the mission or a program.

A simple list of what to do is sufficient to keep operations stable when people leave. As an example, when receiving grant money, the instruction should state what spreadsheet to use, what information to enter, who to inform about the grant, and who will be accountable for spending the money (receive, record, inform, and establish accountability). The instructions do not have to be long.

While it can seem daunting to write instructions for each activity and process, they can be written without many details. Do not write about every possible contingency that may come up. Keep the instructions simple so they can be used as a baseline for what to do. Keep the instruction to one page or two at the most. Make sure there is plenty of white space on each page, maybe use an outline form. The reader does not want to feel like they are reading War and Peace.

I am trying to follow my own advice with the nonprofit I’m involved with. While I already keep records of everything, I am writing out the steps I take to accomplish each process. Now is a good time for everyone to do this since most of us are home. I’m also doing it because I do not plan to stay with the nonprofit the rest of my life.

What it means to be a nonprofit

I have become involved in a small nonprofit that existed for many years. While the previous board members were familiar with the mission, they were unfamiliar with operating a nonprofit. They assumed that being small meant they were okay with not following all the nonprofit rules.

If the IRS approves a letter of determination and the nonprofit receives money, they must follow basic nonprofit rules. Size matters only in what rules to follow.

For example, this nonprofit had not filed an income tax form for several years. Previous members decided that the nonprofit’s small income exempted them from filing. This caused the nonprofit status to be revoked and it was reinstated at a cost.

Every board member should learn how to run a nonprofit. Of all the things to learn, the two most important ones are:

  • Protect the money by creating financial guidelines. Include at least two unrelated people on the bank account and require dual signatures on all expenses. Also, establish a process to balance the bank account and report to the members.
  • Keep the bylaws updated. These are the operating rules of the nonprofit and should be reviewed at least every two years. The most important part of the bylaws is what makes a quorum. Too low a number and changes could be made without members having a say. Too high a number and nothing can get change, even when needed.

Other matters to pay attention to are having a budget, maintaining archives, and keeping a set of operating procedures updated.

Everyone in a nonprofit has responsibility to make sure that, not only is the mission met, but that the nonprofit operates according to the rules. No matter the size of the nonprofit.

RISK

When a foundation funds a grant request, they are making more than an investment in the nonprofit’s mission. The foundation is also investing their reputation in the success of the nonprofit.

When a nonprofit receives grant money, they receive more than money. They make a commitment to the foundation that the money would achieve success.

Investment and commitment come with risk that success is achievable. While reputations are at risk (including the money), it is the nonprofit who stands to lose the most if some measure of success is not found.

I think most foundations know about risk. It is usually a determining factor when awarding grants. However, I discovered some nonprofits do not understand that their future investments are at risk when receiving a grant.

If a nonprofit achieves success, the foundation will likely continue with future funding. Also, other donors are likely to invest in the nonprofit’s mission. How is success determined?

People evaluate success, not facts and data. The nonprofit staff should ask themselves if the mission caused positive change in people’s lives. I hope it did.

In a follow up post, I will write about measuring success. Most of the time, success is hard to determine and it is never absolute.

Yes, I missed a blog post last week (for December 9). My problem is that I write a blog post on the weekend with a Monday posting. I have ideas to use, but nothing prepared if life envelopes my time. This is what happened last week with a trip to a wedding, painters in the house, and volunteer stuff. I should have several posts ready ahead of time, but I don’t. You think I would learn.

Volunteers in a Nonprofit

I have not been a nonprofit volunteer coordinator responsible for managing volunteers’ time. The following are some of my thoughts from working with coordinators and nonprofits.

I found that the biggest problem with volunteers is dependability. Many times, people scheduled to show up do not come nor do they call that they are not coming. While there’s no clear solution to this problem, except keeping a list of people to call at the last minute, there are ways to make things easier for everyone.

What I saw that works best to improve dependability is scheduling people for specific days in the month. This way they know for that month when they are volunteering. Also, volunteers seem to like a monthly schedule.

Communication is important for scheduling. I found it surprising that nonprofits have limited contact with volunteers. Many nonprofit coordinators do not text or email and instead rely on phone calls. They provide little notice to volunteers when needed or assume the volunteer will come on a certain day because they did the previous month. Nonprofits need to communicate with their volunteers on a regular basis.

The big thing missing for nonprofits is that they do not send reminders a day or two before the volunteer is scheduled, and giving the volunteer an easy way to respond. There are software programs which will do this.

Finally, nonprofits are almost always needing volunteers. Yet, many of them do not advertise. Every nonprofit needs an overabundance of volunteers for when someone does not show up. Nonprofits need to tell people they need help.

My experience has been with many small nonprofits, so I wonder if large nonprofits have the same problem. Nonprofits and volunteers want the nonprofit mission to be successful. To accomplish this, nonprofits should communicate and volunteers should show up when they said they would.