You lead a non-profit because it is meaningful and rewarding work. Along the way, you have discovered it also presents significant challenges. When the stress of the job mounts, rely on these foundational principles to keep you focused on the difference you are making every day.
1. Keep the mission in the forefront.
Mission is everything. The public good that your organization provides should drive every decision you make. It is easy to get distracted by the demands of the moment. Look for simple ways to keep the mission in front of you. Post the mission on the wall. Put mission cards on the table at meetings. When presenting to the board, start with a mission slide. Keep your mission where it can inspire and motivate.
2. Money makes the mission possible.
Start with the mission, but remember the money. Without solid financial practices, the organization is not sustainable. Closing the doors in a few years will not help anyone. Make sure that you are following strong business practices that provide for the continued health of the organization.
3. Truly partner with your volunteers.
Working at a non-profit means working with volunteers. Volunteers raise money, support your programs and govern your organization. No matter the type, it is critical to seek an authentic partnership with your volunteers. Be transparent regarding your challenges. Shared leadership and vulnerability keep volunteers committed.
4. Standard business practices apply.
Managing a non-profit is vastly different than managing a private business. Work bleeds into personal life. Managing volunteers is nuanced. You can easily become casual and less structured in your work. Basic business practices are just as foundational to the success of non-profits. Maybe more so.
5. Be clear about responsibilities.
Most non-profits are under-resourced. You and your staff will wear a wide variety of hats. Job responsibilities blur, which leads to confusion and a lack of accountability. Even with a small staff, be clear about who is responsible for what. Remember that if more than one person is responsible, no one is responsible.
6. Guard against burnout.
Your plate will often be overloaded. Your staff is passionate about your cause and will often work late hours. Burnout is a reality in the non-profit world. In the long run, you will save time if you encourage employees to find balance in their lives. Moving slower than desired is less disruptive than constantly hiring and training new staff.
Your passion for your mission can live harmoniously with solid business practices. Be open to asking for support. Know that good management forms the foundation from which you can truly change the world.