Ten Tips for Running a Successful Nonprofit Organization

By | October 11, 2016

When advocating for the causes you care about, you have to ensure that your non-profit organization is effective, efficient and achieves its goals. Here are ten tips to making that happen.

1. Have a clear vision, mission statement, principle of change, and performance metrics.

If you can’t clearly define (in ten words or less) the outcome you want your nonprofit to create for the world, you need to create a very short description that gets your mission across. Once you have your goal, your organization needs to be very clear regarding how you will specifically achieve your goals. Put simply, plan your work and work your plan. It needs to be clear, succinct and achievable. Literally make a “to do” list and a reasonable timeline to go with it that will enable you to hit your marks. Specify the resources you will need and the system of measurement you will use to check your performance.

2. Say “NO” to every good idea.

There is never enough time, talent or “fortune” (i.e. money) to do everything that any organization wants to do. While you want to be flexible and adaptable in bringing new ideas to the forefront, the most important tool in your tool chest is the word “no.” It is critical to be disciplined enough to only say “yes” to GREAT ideas. This means at times you must say “no” to your board, staff members, important donors and even family and friends who will bring you good ideas that will take you off task. It takes a thick skin to say “no” so often. Especially when it means saying “no” to those who care and are productive members of your team. However, you must keep yourself and your team focused on making breakthrough results happen. In no uncertain terms stay on the wall and don’t let anyone push you off of it. The more you say no and have a good reason for saying no, it will become easier for you to say and not feel guilty about it.

3. Perfection is the enemy of the “good enough.”

Once you are implementing your focused “great ideas,” don’t let your desire for perfection stand in the way of achieving solid performance outcomes. Good results on a great plan are always faster, more efficient and effective than perfection. Perfection is too unhurried to achieve in a rapid 24/7 environment.

4. Work backwards from the finish line.

Determine the goal you want to achieve, and then work your plan and timeline backwards from your goal. If you can’t get to your finish line of victory (however you define it) with the time, talent and treasure you have, go back to the drawing board and re-do your plan. Always make sure that your timeline is realistic.

5. Remember to K.I.S.

K.I.S. stands for “Keep It Simple.” If your overall theory of change (how you will achieve your breakthrough results) can’t be fit onto one page, it is way too complicated. Meet with your team and figure out how to streamline the process.

6. Lead from the front

A real leader spends the vast majority of their time doing things that only they themselves can do. This lesson is one of the hardest for leaders to follow because when you are the boss it is very tempting to do the things that come easiest to you and/or are the most fun. But you need to figure out your own role and how best to maximize your time. The rest must be delegated to others who can play other roles. Additionally, a leader should be one of the hardest workers on the team. You need to set an example for those who work alongside you.

7. There is no “I” in team.

A leader can’t afford to lose track of “life in the trenches”. Be willing to take the time now and then to put away the dirty coffee cups, fold and stuff some letters and/or dial for dollars with the team. Praise those who are doing a good job. Reward excellence. Put specific performance benchmarks and goals into every job description and every human resources evaluation. Invest in training for your staff and key volunteers. Celebrate success. The people who work for you, work hard. Let them know that you notice how much they care and how hard they work. For every criticism be ready to have 3 things you can praise the individual for.

8. Under promise and consistently over-deliver.

There is nothing that donors, stakeholders and coalition partners like better than working with people and organizations that get the job done. Elaborate promises are only counter-productive. If you over promise and don’t deliver people will think that you are not trustworthy. Make sure that you are realistic in what you promise.

9. Don’t forget to take a vacation.

Many of you are saying… “I can’t do that. What will they do without me?” Real results can take a marathon, not a sprint. Time away from the office can be the best thing possible not only for you, but also for your workplace. Breaks enable you to take a step back and re-evaluate people, processes and performance outcomes. The best ideas for work are often made far away from the office. If you don’t take a break and get away you will stop seeing the forest for the trees.

10. Smile.

Work, no matter the hours and intensity, should be fun. People should be nice to each other all up and down the “ladder.” Leaders with a “glass half empty” temperament are best at leading people over a cliff. Leaders with a “glass half full” mentality will get more productivity and positive outcomes from their teams. After all, life is short. Why not make it fun?

I promise if you put these ten tips in place you will begin to see major changes for the good and greater success.

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