Natasha Golinsky is a guest contributor for Nonprofit Hub and is the Founder of Next Level Nonprofits—an online training company dedicated to equipping new nonprofit Executive Directors with the skills and support they need to enjoy successful, sustainable and satisfying careers.
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I had a conversation with new client today wherein I asked him what his goals are for 2014. As the Executive Director of a small organization, his response was exactly what I expected: attract more major donors, learn more about applying for grants and get more money from his existing donor base. He felt great about the money they had raised in 2013 and knew that they could double their budget again in 2014.

As we began talking through his game plan for accomplish this goal, red flags started to emerge everywhere. His organization didn’t have an up-to-date strategic plan, his development team was using an antiquated tracking system and he was putting zero time into mapping out a volunteer engagement strategy. He admitted that he was working 50+ hours/week and was still doing 90% of the work but felt that if he just had “more money” that things would be better because he could hire some help and do some more marketing (all of which would hypothetically help to raise even more money.)

Being an Executive coach to nonprofit EDs, I hear this story literally every day. We all think that more resources will help us solve our organization’s problems and allow us help more but, in my opinion, there are ten things that need to be put in place first before you even think of adding one more cent to your budget if long-term scalable success is part of your vision for your organization.

1. Get Your Own Life Under Control.

If you’re an ED working 50+ hours a week and your work/life balance is a mess, getting your life back has to be priority #1. Delegate and automate as many components of your routine as you can so that you’re working no more than 35-40 hours/week—and have two days off/week (and your phone isn’t beeping every five seconds.) Remember sleeping, eating and exercising? Those need to make a comeback.

2. Cement Your Relationship With Your Spouse.

Your whole change-the-world plan is so dependent on the support of your life-partner. When your home life is a mess, no doubt your work life will suffer. Give yourself the home-court advantage by developing a system to make sure that your spouse gets what he/she needs to feel loved, supported and respected while you’re building your organization. Ideas: weekly date night, uninterrupted time to chat daily (without talking about work), weekends away. Dating will cost you a lot less than marriage counseling… don’t leave your relationship to chance.

3. Establish a One-Page, One-Year Strategic Plan for Your Organization.

Forget an expensive five year plan written by some consultant somewhere—you can easily get your whole game plan on one page. Identify these five areas and you’re well on your way to a great year: organization’s vision, mission statement, who are you going to serve, what problems do they have, and how are you going to solve those problems.

4. Reflect on How Well You Helped Solve Your Clients’ Problems Last Year.

Before blindly continuing to run your play this year, look back over your results from last year and identify what worked, what didn’t work and what you need to tweak. If a program isn’t working well for your clients (even though you love it), get rid of it. Poll your clients and see what they thought of your programs—they may have some great ideas for how you can improve your offering this year.

5. Scour Your Budget for Wasted Money.

Take a long hard look at your current expenses and one by one ask yourself if that item is really necessary for what you want to accomplish this year. Be ruthless: if you don’t really need it (or aren’t really using it) get rid of it. Get as lean as you can as fast as you can.

6. Check Out the Health of Your Volunteer Department.

Most EDs completely neglect developing a volunteer development strategy resulting in high volunteer turnover and low engagement. Imagine what you could do with a tribe of trained, engaged, passionate, organized volunteers each working to their strengths and acting as eager ambassadors for your organization. Wow!

7. Tune-Up Your Donor Management System.

If you’re not using a donor management tool or some sort of Contact Relationship Management program to track interactions with your existing donors, your organization will have a hard time keeping them around for long. Donors need to feel like you know them, you’re paying attention, and that you have their best interests at heart but how do you keep track of what’s important to them without some technological tools? It can’t be done. Start now.

8. Spruce Up Your Communication with Your Stakeholders.

With the advances in online technology, the options are endless for how you can stay in touch with your organization’s stakeholders. How about a private Facebook or Google+ group for where your volunteers can meet up and chat? How about a professional looking, high-value e-newsletter that goes out to your donors once/month? Deepen your engagement with those who are already engaged—go deeper before you go wider.

9. Map Out a Strategic Fundraising Plan.

Stop jumping on the “what’s hot in fundraising today” train and establish a unique plan that will help meet the needs of your specific organization. Stop trying to do everything all at the same time (major gifts, planning giving, grants, events etc) and work smarter instead of harder.

10. Make Time to Celebrate Your Successes.

Every quarter, block off a Friday afternoon and order in pizza and dessert for you and your team where you spend a few hours hanging out together and celebrating your team’s victories. Nonprofit work can be often thankless with no one to pat you on the back so be proactive and do it for each other. This simple practice will help keep morale high and infuse a sense of fun into your workplace. Create a contest to see who had the best news and give them a silly trophy or something—you get the idea.

I want to wrap this up with a quick story. Ten years ago I did a year of mission work in Mexico City. In one of the communities I visited, women would walk down to the river and then haul back buckets of water multiple times per day—a laborious and monotonous task. Often I would notice that the women’s buckets were a bit broken and water would spill out splashing the walkway back up to the village. Every day so much of their hard work was being wasted because of the water they were lugging up the hill in their buckets was trickling out bit by bit leaving sometimes with a third less water by the time they got home. I remember asking myself, “how much less work would these women have to do if their buckets didn’t have any holes?”

More and more donors want to know that their money is contributing to a measurable outcome—it is no longer of interest to most donors to give just for the sake of giving, they want to know that those managing their money are paying attention and are on top of things. It all begins with taking care of all the resources you already have before you invest in getting more. Focus on plugging the holes in your bucket first. Only then, focus on adding more water to your bucket.