Boost Your Performance Threshold by Outsourcing

Sponsored by Jitasa


Every nonprofit eventually reaches “the hump:” the point at which your organization wants to expand and do even more good for others, but your limited resources and/or personnel won’t allow it. This is frustrating, but it shouldn’t deter you from pushing forward and continuing your work. One of the best ways to make it over the hump is outsourcing. If you’re unfamiliar with the practice, don’t worry—we’ve got you covered.

What is outsourcing?

Outsourcing is the delegation of key management areas to outside contractors or vendors. Often times nonprofit founders and staff think they have to do everything themselves, including work that is seemingly unrelated to their organization’s mission. This workhorse mentality obviously has its benefits, but at some point, it becomes ultimately unproductive to slave over peripheral duties. Instead, hire professionals who are trained to sweat the details so you can get back to your crucial work.

Just about anything can be outsourced, but it’s important to think critically about which areas of your work should be delegated to outside service providers. For example, tons of businesses and nonprofits outsource their payroll and IT operations because they’re back-office services that don’t directly relate to the organization’s mission. This way, nonprofit staff are able their time and energy on what matters most to them.

Treat outside providers like employees.

Even though service providers are not official employees of your organization, you should treat them as such. This is not to say that they should receive all of the benefits your organization provides, but they should be treated respectfully and professionally. They should be interviewed, and their past work should be readily available. After all, a piece of your nonprofit is in their hands.

Treating these professionals well also increases the likelihood of long-term engagement. If you decide their services are worthwhile, you want to be sure they’re willing to continue working with your organization.

Be clear, be very clear.

Outsourced work and projects often require very specific instruction. Because these service providers are not directly involved in your organization, they likely won’t be able to capture your brand or voice without a little direction—and the clearer the instructions the better. Be clear about deadlines, compensation, expectations—everything. If you and your service providers are on the same page everything will go much more smoothly.

Being clear and specific can also save you money. For example, if you decide to outsource content—such as a graphic or written piece—it will be much cheaper if there are just one or two drafts as opposed to three or four. It may seem annoying to give such painstaking instructions, but it will all be worth it in the end.

What’s the catch?

If this all sounds too good to be true, it might be because, sometimes, it is. Outsourcing is an opportunistic and efficient strategy, but it comes with its caveats.

For one, projects must be closely monitored. Deadlines must be met, and usually, it will be you, the nonprofiteer, who keeps them in check. Some service providers are great about meeting deadlines, but others may require a little friendly encouragement.

Additionally, it’s imperative that you and your service provider operate with legal diligence. Outsourcing is not an under-the-table, tit-for-tat scheme. These service agreements are almost always contractual, and they require specific requirements and regulations by both parties.

Outsourcing is an incredibly useful tool, but it’s important you have all of your ducks in a row before making any official decisions. Do research to find the best provider for your organization. Look at their websites and portfolios. Interview them. Ask for references. Once you find the right fit, be clear with your instructions, and treat them like they’re part of the group—you never know, they very well might be someday.

  • This is a good article, but I don’t think I can agree with the statement, “treat outside providers like employees.” As an outside provider for nonprofits (and many others), I sit on the other side of this conversation. And, I’ve spent a lot of time designing the organization, developing the team, and working on creating a culture and community of professionals directed towards doing their best for our clients. These are my employees and we are proud of who we are. So, this statement presents a challenge, because there are practices within some of our (past) client’s businesses that I do not want to practice in my own. And, I prefer that matters of culture be directed to my senior management team for us to solve… rather than being treated like an employee of some other organization. Now, there’s another aspect of this that I’m reminded of, which may connect our two thoughts… and it’s on the topic of value alignment. This is something we’ve learned in selecting our clients: to make sure that we don’t take the business on if there isn’t a synergy between the org’s values and your own. Doing this helps to prevent the challenges of conflicting cultures.