Category Archives: Management

WittyBizGal Nonprofit Management; Why Every Nonprofit Should Have a Facebook Page-YES, This Means YOU


Out there in the real world, the nonprofit sector is so much more than just the big players…The American Red Cross, The American Cancer Society, Girl Scouts of the USA, and the like. Those are the ones everybody knows about, because they are jumbo sized and very effectively branded. They don’t need my help. They are extremely well staffed, well funded, and well governed. But, there are often dozens-plus small charitable nonprofit organizations in any given geographic area that you’ve probably never heard of. I experienced this first hand during my time on the Board of a small nonprofit here in town serving the needs of women and their families. I kid you not, folks, this wonderful organization had been serving our tiny community steadily since 1984, with a thrift store located on a major downtown street and the first time many residents became aware of its existence was when I arranged to have the local paper come and do a feature article on our thrift store. That next week, sales at our thrift store grew exponentially, and we heard it over and over again…”Why I’ve lived here all my life and I didn’t even know you were here…I sure am glad I do now!” 

So, what does that tell us as nonprofit supporters and professionals? It tells us that, second to ensuring that your nonprofit no matter how big or small, is governed and operated according to best practices (some of which I’ve already covered here in my blog), you have to get the word out about your cause! You just have to! Donors won’t donate, clients won’t take advantage of your services, and other forms of publicity will not come your way if you don’t establish and effectively maintain two of the most fundamental forms of communication in the year 2012–a functional and up to date website, and an up to date, effectively monitored presence on social media. I stress things like functional, up to date, and effectively monitored, because the harsh truth is that if you are not willing to invest a little time and effort towards those ideals with a website and a social media presence, then you can do your organization more harm than good–seriously. Major donors and grantmakers will run for the hills if your website is full of ancient information and dead links, or if your Facebook page  contains inappropriate content (think 11 year olds who have just learned a new naughty word and now want to share it with the world), or SPAM type postings such as all the “Work From Home” scams I see posted everywhere. 

But, here’s the dirty little secret that no owner of a Facebook Fan Page wants you to know because they want you to remain really impressed with their page–aside from a couple of hours to set up properly, and a quick daily monitoring to post the good stuff and keep the bad stuff (sort of like weeds on a lawn) off, it’s obscenely easy! Webpages are a tad more work to set up and maintain, but we’re talking specifically about social media here, and more specifically a Facebook presence. 

So…why should your nonprofit organization be on Facebook? 

1) Numero Uno Reason? Because it’s FREE publicity–and you need it! Nonprofits are not known for being flush with cash. Don’t argue with me, you know it’s true. Most small nonprofits I know struggle to reach and maintain full funding for their programs and services. Period. Why turn down advertising and outreach that is basically akin to doling out dollars to put a billboard on every major and minor road everywhere in the world? That’s right, that would just be crazy, wouldn’t it? So why do you still not have a Facebook Page? 

2) Client Outreach. They are the reason you do what you do. Chances are, they’re on Facebook. Even the ones who still don’t have a computer and an internet connection at home have a library card. And with that library card comes free access to the internet. And Facebook pages soon follow free access to the Internet. There’s not one of us who has ever been online who hasn’t Googled old friends, old flames, and assorted questionable estranged relatives. And the best way to keep up with all of those people once you’ve found them is in Facebook. We’re all human, we all do it. Your clients are human, they do it too. 

3) Donor and Grantmaker Outreach. We have reached that point in world history where these folks, who you are definitely trying to reach and who you would dearly love to write you a big fat check, expect you to have a social media presence. And that means a Facebook page at least, maybe a Twitter page. If you don’t have one, they will ask themselves silently why you don’t have one. They’ll never admit it, but it may also be one of the reasons why they choose to donate or grant elsewhere…because social media has become so widespread and commonplace in 2012 that they may consider it a red flag that you don’t exactly have your ducks in a row. 

Hopefully, having made the case as to why, if you have achieved 501c3 status, you should also achieve a Facebook Page, here are a few WittyBiz tips for you and your worthy, possibly unheard of, nonprofit organization: 

  • Your page needs to be a Facebook Fan Page, NOT a regular Facebook Page where you add Friends, and NOT a Group. This is your calling card billboard to the world. If Facebook Users can’t “Like” your organization’s page without your approval, then you’ve picked the wrong one. Abort! Reboot! And make an authentic Fan Page. 
  • Designate one or two representatives from your organization to set up the page, and act as its official Administrators. Don’t hand out this responsibility lightly–this page is public, and the reputation of your nonprofit organization is on the line. 
  • If you have more than one Administrator, have all parties work diligently to achieve a page that is written and posted as “one voice”. 
  • Make sure that your nonprofit organization’s contact information is complete and accurate in the “About” section of the page, and be sure to include your official mission in that section as well. 
  • Don’t be a bore! Social media is not the same thing as a nonprofit symposium. Hopefully, before too long, you’ll have Fans from all walks of life, all sorts of interested supporters. A Facebook Fan Page that is full of nothing but dull statistics and pleas for donations is the quickest way to be “Unliked” and/or ignored on Facebook. Sprinkle a little appropriate, related pop culture on there, along with showing a little peek of your nonprofit’s personality! 
  • Monitor and weed as needed. As mentioned, people may try to post all sorts of inappropriate and/or off topic content on your page. Much like graffiti on the outside of your nonprofit’s headquarters downtown, you have the right and the responsibility to keep your page on message, and non-offensive to a reasonable person’s standards. In my opinion, this includes flame wars that may ensue in the comment section of your postings. When a reasonable discussion, or even a friendly debate deteriorates into the cyber equivalent of hair pulling, and “Yo Mamas” it may be time to start removing Fan comments. Nicely and professionally, of course. 
  • Be sure that your Administrators, or other official leaders of the organization respond promptly and effectively to any Facebook direct private messages, or Wall inquiries your Fan Page receives. If you fail to do so, it will be duly noted by the public–and not in a good way…
  • Have fun! It has been my experience that people who are generally uncomfortable with online activity tend to, as President Obama says, get all wee-weed up–over Facebook. Trust me, it is the most user friendly online interface out there. Take some time to poke around the site, click on the help features if you don’t understand something, and ask around. Chances are, just about everyone on Facebook is willing to lend some advice about the ins and outs of the site. Be professional, but don’t be so afraid of looking unprofessional that your content seems too stiff and unapproachable. Loosen up, you’ll do fine! 

I hope to see you all online! 

WittyBizGal Nonprofit Management; 3 Common But Fatal Governance Mistakes



The Boards of Directors of nonprofit organizations are a vital component of each and every entity which is a part of the nonprofit sector. A high functioning board is one where leaders clearly understand board roles and responsibilities, as well as areas of major accountability which are:

  • Setting broad strategic vision and goals 
  • Overseeing and ensuring nonprofit’s overall financial viability, both short and long term
  • Fundraising
  • Positive promotion of the organization in the community 
  • Effectively managing and delegating operational responsibility to the Executive Director

Almost everyone who joins a nonprofit Board of Directors does so with good intentions, and a desire to support a worthy cause. There is rarely ever a financial gain motivation, as nonprofit board members are not paid. In fact, in many organizations, board members are expected to make substantial contributions in the form of monetary donations, in addition to donation of time and service

So, you’d think that nonprofit boards would not only survive but thrive in this perpetual atmosphere of goodness, light, good will and sunshine, right? Well…not exactly. In fact a lot of things can go wrong in this sort of environment, resulting in minor to severe organizational dysfunction, ineffectiveness in governance, stagnation, and even the eventual demise of the nonprofit. That last one is always a shame, as most charitable organizations are founded with worthy and important goals, and at least the potential to address pressing social service need, and fill critical gaps in communities. 

Here are my top 3 picks for the common, but highly fixable errors made by a lot of nonprofit boards:

1) Failure To Strategically Assemble And Maintain A Diverse Group

The key to success with a Board of Directors often lies not in its ability to get along well, socialize outside the boardroom, and never experience conflict, but in understanding the value of a team which respects and even embraces differences in one another. The key here is diversity–not in the traditional sense of racial, cultural, and ethnic diversity, although that can play a role as well–but in diversity of background experiences, professional skill sets, personality, and ways of approaching problems. 

Homogeneous groups tend to be less effective than diverse groups because they are prone to groupthink and lack of innovation. This is a common occurrence on nonprofit boards primarily due to the way in which these groups tend to source their members–through their own social connections. People are more comfortable being around others who think like they do and have the same response to problem solving, etc. Let’s remember that comfort is not the goal here–affecting positive change for the client group is

2) Thinking Governance and Management Are One In The Same

Quite simply, they’re two different concepts. Lines are often blurred due to a fundamental lack of understanding of the governance role, as well as arguably subtle differences between the two. Hey, let’s face it, sometimes you can be governing right along there with the best of them, lose focus, and all of a sudden wake up managing. How the heck did you get there? Well, because it’s easy to do. Here are a few tips to keep boards on the governing side and steering clear of sliding over into management:

  • Hire and effectively manage the overall performance of the Executive Director, don’t push them aside and do their job for them. 
  • Keep simultaneous focus on the short and long term. This is actually Leadership 101, and not as hard as it sounds. Set short and long term goals with long term vision in mind. Determine the purpose of your organization, realistically look at where you are now, develop a vision of where you’d like to be, and give broad marching orders on how to get there utilizing the resources you have in the here and now. 
  • Resist the urge to micromanage! If your staff and/or fellow board members are afraid to make the decisions and take the actions which fall within the range of those bullet points on their job description without running it by you first–every time–then you too might be a micromanager. Consult Control Freaks Anonymous for 12 Step Help. 🙂 
  • Remember that oversight is your primary responsibility. Delegation is not abdication. The buck stops with you. In addition to looking great on one of those cheesy motivational business posters, those last two sentences should be your guiding light for governance. Be present and accountable for what your nonprofit does and how it is viewed by external stakeholders. 

3) Nursing A Fundamental Lack of Understanding That Change Is Inevitable, But Growth Is Optional

My friend, motivational speaker and author Mary Foley Tweeted that the other day, and it stirred my governance juices so that I felt compelled to Tweet back, “Amen Sister!” The nonprofit sector has the reputation of being slow to embrace change, clunky and inefficient, and idealistic-unrealistic. Mind you, I say this as a great lover and supporter of all things 501c3, but the nonprofit sector has come by that stereotype honestly….

Many nonprofit boards, while well meaning, do cling to the notion of doing things the way they’ve always been done. While it is important to know and understand the history of the organization (that’s the “where we’ve been and where we are now” part), it is also important to fully grasp the concept that while change is scary, it will be visited upon your nonprofit whether you like it or not. Organizations, as much as they’d like to, do not exist in a vacuum. There is an internal and external environment in which they must exist that is continually changing. Client groups change, client needs change, legal and regulatory climates change, best management practice changes…all aspects of the world in which your nonprofit operates change. And, as Mary so aptly stated in 140 characters or less, the positive growth of your nonprofit is optional…It is optional, and fully within your locus of control and responsibility as a nonprofit board member and leader. 

Should boards then respond by tearing up the old ways and jumping on the bandwagon of whatever is new and trendy? Of course not. But, boards make a grave error when they tie their own hands, those hands responsible for shaping the present and future of the organization, because they are afraid to try new things, think outside the box, and take a calculated, educated risk now and then. If the fear that shaking things up a bit will cause your most important members to jump ship, then you really have to ask yourself if you have fallen into that common trap of pleasing one another rather than a spirit of servant leadership to your mission.  

Please feel free to comment below on my top three governance errors, and add some of your own! 

WittyBizGal Nonprofit Management; How Much Should Your Nonprofit Rely On Required Board Member Monetary Donations?



Image & Data Sourced From: Should Board Members Be Required To Give? by Jan Masaoka 

I’ve been thinking about this issue for awhile now, gathering information, organizing my own thoughts on the subject, and would now like to address this arguably sticky wicket. Why is it sticky? I have come to the conclusion that it is one of the most uncomfortable management and governance problems the board will face, all because we’re human. Yep, we are impressive, professional, governing bodies comprised of flawed human beings–and discussion of personal financial matters makes most of us so uncomfortable that we don’t…discuss them, that is. This often leads to confusion, embarrassment, and less than effective governance and management, as poor organizational communication always does. 

It may not be common knowledge, but most nonprofit professionals are aware that it is traditional in the nonprofit sector for members of the organization’s Board of Directors to donate substantively to the nonprofit. This is because donations on the part of board members represent a gesture of good faith to the organization, as well as personal belief in, and commitment to, the entity’s vision and mission, as well as a tangible partial fulfillment of board members’ responsibility to fundraise. Financial donations in particular, according to some sources, render board members better able to approach donors to ask for major gifts and other types of charitable donations, although I disagree with this stance. Why do I disagree? Because I believe that substantive, meaningful donations on the part of individual board members do not necessarily need to be financial. There are a variety of ways in which board members can donate to the nonprofit in order to fulfill that generally accepted requirement to donate substantively as an individual–the traditional fiscal contribution of course, but also donations of the in kind variety, meaning special professional expertise, actual volunteer man hours, goods and services donations, etc. 

And here is where I will buck the system and attempt to radically overthrow the nonprofit sector as we know it and state without hesitation that I do not believe the traditionally accepted custom of requiring annual financial contributions of board members is a good one. Not only do I think this is an outdated notion which has been carried forth in the sector simply because it is tradition, but I also think it can be unhealthy and harmful to the organization in certain circumstances. While I completely agree that board members need to display commitment to and belief in the organization via donation, as I’ve stated, those donations can and should come in a variety of forms in addition to financial. In fact, nonprofits adhering to the tradition of large, required monetary donations to the nonprofit run the serious risk of maintaining a homogenous board, with only members of one particular socioeconomic background, which can lead to harmful groupthink, or even unnecessary discrimination against worthy potential members of lesser personal means. 

Board members of nonprofit organizations can and should be so much more than large gift donors. Great, effective board members….

  • Display exceptional leadership skills
  • Demonstrate ability to keep simultaneous focus on both long term and short term organizational goals
  • Bring diverse professional skill sets to the table
  • Have the inclination and ability to volunteer hours of their time to make a difference
  • Offer varied perspectives in order to foster effective teamwork and problem solving
  • Skillfully and strategically plan organizational activities from year to year which effectively support the organization’s mission, vision, and purpose in the community

Nonprofit organizations, quite frankly, are lucky if they can find these qualities in board members willing to donate their time and expertise to the organization…and these qualities don’t always co-exist with a fat personal bank account. Board members from all walks of life, cultural backgrounds, and socioeconomic status should be sourced by organizational leaders in order to assemble the best team–a team with diversity of perspective, and a desire to do something wonderful and meaningful with their lives. Overreliance upon the Board of Directors for fundraising from their own wallets, and overemphasis upon members’ ability to donate financially, can cheat nonprofit entities, and more importantly the clients we serve, out of an optimally functioning board. Not to mention the fact that honing an ability to gather such donations from the community, corporations, and other sources is equally, if not more important than simply reaching for one’s own checkbook to finance organizational activities, programs, and services. 

For additional reading on the topic of board member contributions of all varieties, I recommend BoardSource  for trustworthy, up to date governance articles and resources. 

What is your take on mandatory, or strongly expected and heavily emphasized board member monetary donations? Do you hold with the traditional school of thought that this is a large part of what makes a board member worthy and desirable as part of the team, or do you agree with me that we need to start a bit of a revolution in our sector? Weigh in below! 

WittyBizGal Nonprofit Management; Motivate Your Staff, Maslow Style


A lot has been written about how to motivate employees to work towards achievement of organizational goals and objectives. There are also various theories of motivation itself. Almost everyone has heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which classifies human needs into five broad categories; physiological, safety, belonging, esteem, and finally, self actualization. In a nutshell, Maslow theorized that people’s needs must be met in this ascending order, beginning with physiological, and ending with self actualization. In other words, don’t even try to talk to them about how much they need to care about all the lofty goals of the nonprofit they work for, if you’ve been overly long winded at a pre-lunch staff meeting, and all they can think about is that PB&J sandwich in their desk drawer.

Other researchers in the field of psychology have devised other motivation models, but Maslow’s remains my personal favorite. It explains, in the most basic of terms, what makes people tick. Once you understand which needs motivate them at a given point in time, you can better understand how to motivate your staff to help you achieve the vision and mission of the nonprofit organization. So, here goes…not necessarily in order of importance, don’t think of it that way. Think of it as a sequence which must be followed, so you’ll spend less time spinning your management wheels, and more time achieving your management objectives.


Just about everyone who works has some sort of monetary motivation for doing so. I’ve read a lot of articles and textbooks, etc. that make the assertion that people’s primary motivation for working is not salary or hourly wages, bla, bla, bla. This is simply not true. When push comes to shove, to varying degrees, people usually work in a paid position because they need the cash to cover their rent or mortgage, buy food, clothes, etc. Once these needs are basically addressed, then they have the luxury of thinking about other things they might want. While it is not always possible for nonprofits to exceed the market in terms of competitive wages, all nonprofits should strive to at least meet the market. I don’t know of any organization that has achieved much of anything by following a lag the market strategy.

In order to attract and retain the human resources you need, you must strategize to pay your people competitively for the positions they hold. So, first and foremost, develop a compensation strategy that can be consistently applied throughout the organization. This means you should have rhyme and reason to how you pay everyone in your organization. It needs to make sense, relatively speaking for each position, and have a sensible range at each pay grade which can be tied to performance, which we’ll get into later. Get hold of some current salary survey information so that you can effectively benchmark those grades and ranges too, and compete for the best and the brightest in the candidate pool. The Nonprofit Times offers this information for a relatively small fee here: Salary Survey Data Tax Free, of course…:-) If you can’t afford that, be creative. Make some investigative calls to other area nonprofits and gather as much information as you can from them, enough to help you get an idea of where to set your own compensation framework.


People need to feel reasonably physically safe in their work environment, and they also need to feel relatively secure that their organization is stable and their job will not disappear inexplicably overnight. First and foremost, get your risk management ducks in a row and develop workplace policies on safety, security, sexual harassment, etc., and put some weight behind a simple paper policy that sits on a shelf gathering dust by planning and conducting regular training on each of these. The best place to go, always, for human resource management related information, forms, and best practices is the Society for Human Resource Management, or SHRM. Some resources are free on the website, and some require membership with SHRM, which is well worth the annual fee.

As for economic security, the best thing for you to do is to shore up your organization and strengthen it, to increase the chances that it can weather any storm, survive any recession, and be sustainable in the long term. There are a lot of ways to accomplish this, but perhaps one of the best is to engage in formal strategic planning. Strategic planning forces you to assess your current situation and environment (both internal and external), determine where you want to take your organization, and plan out, in a clear and realistic way, how exactly you are going to get there. There is some excellent (and FREE) information for nonprofits tackling strategic planning, especially for the first time, here: All About Strategic Planning


Your employees need to feel as if they are part of a team. Teamwork is a business buzzword that is tossed out a lot these days…by organizations trying to make themselves look like one big happy family, and by desperate job seekers trying to make themselves look like they will fit right in–anywhere, so that they can meet Need #1, Physiological. But, quite frankly, high functioning, cohesive, healthy workplace teams are much rarer than these folks would have you believe. If you are looking to foster real teamwork in your organization, there are many books and resources out there to give you advice. Hint: Avoid books that are overly gimmicky, and offer a too-simple-to-be-believed, easy recipe for teams.

Over the years, however, I have picked up a few broad guidelines for teamwork that do actually work:

1) Create a Team Charter–it needn’t be overly formal or complicated, but should probably be written down, and it should clarify the broad purpose or task of the team, specific, measurable objectives for achieving that purpose or goal.

2) Set Ground Rules & A Game Plan–This may seem like overkill, but the expectations of each member of the team should be established, both behavioral and task, and these should be written down, and acknowledged by each team member with a signature.

3) Create Communication Guidelines–Once again, this may seem silly to actually think about and write down and have people sign, but trust me, it’s not. We may think we are all adults and will act like it in the workplace, but I have seen grown ups on teams behave like kids on a playground when a miscommunication or lack of communication occurs. There are so many ways communication can break down, and when it does, your team can fall down a well that even Lassie cannot pull them out of. Think about all of the potential pitfalls of your team’s communication, and establish rules to follow for effective communication, active listening, and conflict resolution.


People who work need to feel good about what they do on a daily basis, so they will have a reason, a motivation to keep doing it, and to help you achieve the mission of the nonprofit organization. The best way to ensure that they will feel good about their jobs is to develop a comprehensive system of performance management. Notice I didn’t say performance evaluation, because they are not the same thing. Performance evaluation is one piece of performance management.

I actually did my HR master’s thesis on the topic of performance management, and these were the conclusions I drew based upon research and analysis:

Good performance management in any organization involves using:

1) Effective organizational and interpersonal communication: Comprehensive job analysis and descriptions & telling people exactly what is expected of them–don’t assume anything.

2) Goal setting: Involve the employee in setting performance goals for themselves at regular intervals from the beginning, not just once a year. 

3) Ongoing feedback, to guide and shape the job performance of individuals to better meet the mission of the organization: Make feedback regular, perhaps daily and weekly, in order to shape performance on an ongoing basis, again NOT JUST ONCE A YEAR at performance evaluation time.

And finally….


Aside from their sense of doing a good job in the position for which they were hired, employees need to feel as if they are contributing in a meaningful way toward serving the mission, and the client group. In other words, your staff needs to feel like they have a direct impact upon achievement of the mission, whatever that may be. So, how does a receptionist for a nonprofit organization feel as if he or she is making the world a better place while answering phones, routing calls, greeting the public, typing and filing all day? Simple! Re-design jobs to increase direct contact and interaction with the client group, and also that individual’s input and control over how the mission is achieved.

You will want to start with job analysis, also mentioned in #4, and consider adding elements to job descriptions which are designed to give every position more interface with the client group. For example, you might want to put a Receptionist in charge of developing and maintaining a client satisfaction survey program, or something of that nature. And add cross functional teams and committees to your organization. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a permanent team or temporary committee being comprised of executive staff and line employees. In fact, this makes a better team all around! This is because you introduce diversity of perspective into the mix, which, when combined with the great teamwork you developed in #3, along with effective dialogue, and a sense of openness in communication regardless of position level, can propel your organization to greatness! No nonprofit, or any organization for that matter, has ever benefitted in any meaningful way from homogenous teams, groupthink, and line employees who are afraid to share their perspectives and ideas for improvement.

Once again, you can always find great information on the SHRM website for anything employment related, including job analysis and job design. 

I hope you have found these motivational guidelines, inspired by Maslow and designed by me, to be useful and applicable to your own nonprofit organization. If you have additional information you’d like to share about your own experiences with motivation in the workplace, please feel free to comment below!

Coming Up…A New E-terview Series; Nonprofit Leadership


Leadership….what is it? I have a whole leadership focused business management degree, and while I was toiling away in all those classes I learned what the experts had to say on the subject, and I also formed my own opinions along the way. The concept of leadership means different things to different people, and not surprisingly, expectations of leadership vary from organization to organization.  I see leadership as a complex concept that involves the degree to which an individual or group of individuals purposely and systematically influences the opinions, priorities, and behaviors of others.

Unlike the experts, I believe that leadership can be either positive or negative. I remember having somewhat of a contentious debate with one of my instructors at one time, regarding whether or not Adolf Hitler was a leader. I argued that he was–just a really, really bad one, and my instructor toed the line of conventional business management wisdom that he was not, because with leadership there is an inherent implication of positive influence. Since I think that leaders can be positive or negative, good or bad, I also think leadership is all about choices. Everyone involved with an organization can be a leader (that is in line with the experts), and every individual makes choices and groups of choices–daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, that affect the degree to which he or she is able to influence others around them, and also whether that influence will amount to a positive or a negative for the organization overall.

The nonprofit sector is all about doing good, right? So, every formal (and informal) nonprofit leader arguably sets out to help their particular organization do the most good, for the most clients, and to leave a positive impact on the world, as defined by their mission, which technically could be at odds with some other nonprofit’s mission, but usually is not. They also usually believe strongly in that mission too, or they wouldn’t be associated with that nonprofit, at least not for long. And, they want to influence others–their peers, their subordinates, their bosses on the board of directors, donors, grantmakers, and the community around them, to help them and their organization do good!

So how do real life nonprofit leaders, out there in the trenches where life and work is tough sometimes, have a positive influence, and influence others to help them achieve a vision? There’s only one way to find out–ask them! And that’s what I intend to do in an upcoming E-terview series on Nonprofit Leadership. I want to talk to real nonprofit leaders, preferably from different places, working in different industries, about how they define leadership, and how they carry it out day to day in the nonprofits they are associated with. I had a lot of fun with my Authentic Winner E-terview series, and I think this one will be just as interesting and engaging, for me, and you too.

So, stay tuned over the next few weeks as I talk to nonprofit leaders about what leadership means to them, their own successes and mistakes, and they share their wisdom with us about how they have a positive influence, and we can too! I have a couple of folks lined up for this, but am open to new e-terview-ees. If you work for a nonprofit organization of any size, and manage or coordinate either people or a function, I’d love to talk to you! If you’re interested in being featured, please comment here, or drop me a line at

WittyBizGal Nonprofit Management; 5 Steps to a Great Volunteer Program


On the whole, nonprofit organizations seem to have somewhat of a reputation for management which is carried out less efficiently and effectively than for profit organizations. The truth in that perception and opinion based rumor is that there are plenty of poorly managed organizations out there—both nonprofit and for profit.

One of the most useful resources of the nonprofit organization is its volunteer human resources and, yes, inefficient, ineffective volunteer programs, or the complete lack of a formal volunteer program at all, are a common nonprofit management error. This is especially true for small nonprofit organizations which, notoriously, are always scrambling for adequate funding. Jumbo sized, well funded nonprofits such as the American Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, etc., tend to be better organized, more efficient, and mostly effective, but even they sometimes could use a tune-up, particularly at the regional level.

If you would like to set up a good, solid volunteer program from scratch, or give your old, clunky one a Hollywood makeover, here are five easy steps for you. Well, okay, maybe not easy, but surprisingly simple and well worth the effort!  

1)     Define, and Continually Examine and Re-Define If Necessary, the Purpose and Scope of Your Volunteer Program

Some  nonprofits just start using volunteers without putting sufficient thought into how to make the most of these precious resources. Every organization is unique, and has its own specific mission, goals, objectives, and appropriate, often untapped, or not yet considered opportunities for volunteers. Spend some time considering that mission, the organization’s goals and objectives, your existing staff, and your workforce plan. Then, based on all of that, develop an actual mission and vision for your volunteer program.  By the way, even if you already have a working volunteer program, it is never too late to go back and complete this first step. And, once you have a good idea of your purpose and scope, definitely have your Board and Staff go back and re-evaluate it periodically. There is nothing worse than an outdated mission and purpose that has not kept up with the times and those inevitable organizational and industry environmental changes.

2)     Have a Good Understanding of Your Legal and Ethical Responsibilities to All Your Workers—Paid or Unpaid

Employment law is a much stickier wicket than most people realize. That being said, it is way too complicated to memorize—nobody does that, not even a labor attorney. Oh, and even if you did memorize it all, your knowledge would have limited utility because it changes about every five minutes anyway. Also, don’t just assume that employment laws don’t apply at all to volunteers because they are not classified as employees. This mostly true statement can get you into a whole lot of trouble if you don’t know what you are doing. Find out which employment laws, federal, state, and local actually do cover volunteers in a blanket fashion. And tort laws…oh those tort laws—know which ones apply to you and your common related workplace scenarios. Here’s a hint: issues of equal opportunity, privacy (both client and volunteer), and personal safety and injury will likely be your biggest bugaboos.

3)     Perform Job Analysis, and Develop Written Job Descriptions Yes, you have to!

Okay, well, technically you don’t have to. But, trust me, management, whether that is carried out in a for profit or nonprofit environment is best addressed through heeding best practices. Those are good, standard guidelines which may not involve actions that you have to take, rather those which have been deemed best to take. This is based on a collective body of knowledge of a lot of people who probably know a lot more than you do, no matter who you are, because they either know a lot about laws and regulations, problems which have occurred in real life scenarios, or have even royally screwed up themselves, but never will make the same mistake again. You should figure out what your volunteer jobs are going to entail—exactly. This typically involves the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to do the job effectively, and then the areas of responsibility, actual duties, reporting relationships, and physical work environment in which the job will be performed. A lot of people management activities are, or should be at least, based upon a good job analysis, which produces a good written job description.

4)     Manage (Recruit, Motivate, Guide, Counsel, and Train) Them Like Employees

No, in most cases, you don’t have to, because more than likely no state employment regulatory agency is going to knock on your door or send you a nasty letter if you don’t. But, you’ll just have to trust me on this one because it is one of those best practices I mentioned before. And, frankly, it is just easier to simplify your human resource management practices by designing your volunteer program management activities around your paid employee human resource activities. Follow those first for recruitment of volunteers, which can be largely guided by your newly minted job description. Conduct a formalized, professional recruitment process. You won’t be sorry you did, but you might be sorry down the road if you don’t. Remember, you’re looking for fit there—fit between the needs of the organization, and the skills, abilities, and also the needs of the volunteer. In the other aspects of volunteer relations management, you must consider motivation and rewards, as well as performance management. It is best to conduct regular performance reviews for your volunteers—just like employees. And here’s another hint about motivating volunteers: identify and then focus on those intrinsic rewards associated with the work that your volunteers do. Sure, they are not doing this for an hourly wage or yearly salary, but you’d better believe that each and every volunteer was motivated by certain wants and needs to altruistically show up on your doorstep and work for free. Find out what those needs and wants are, collectively and individually, and use them as a guide to manage the nonprofit/volunteer relationship throughout.

5)     Write Stuff Down

Avoid making assumptions when it comes to effective utilization of volunteers in your organization. In fact, documenting and codifying into formalized policy and procedure is always a good managerial practice. You know what they say about assumptions—and it’s true, because I have seen it play out over and over in organizations. BE CLEAR—about everything. People need to know what is expected of them, and the less ambiguity the better when it comes to behavioral expectations, knowledge of the history of the organization, how things work in departments other than the one they work in, ethical expectations, etc. Do not leave things to chance, because if anything is likely to come back and bite you, it will be that, in some fashion or another, when you least expect it. I recommend that each volunteer be educated about and clear on first and foremost, the vision/mission and history of your organization. Next, volunteers should understand all the policies and procedures of the nonprofit—written down, and given to them so that they can refer back as needed. And finally, the volunteer’s employment relationship should be comprehensively documented—first with that all important job description, then down the line, with written performance evaluations, goals which are set, areas for improvement, etc. Never confuse organizational communication with micromanagement—they are not the same thing. When it doubt, write it down.

I hope these tips have been helpful for you…This is, of course, not a comprehensive list of all the things you need to do to have a great nonprofit volunteer management program. If you have additional tips, cautionary tales, and best practices, please do add them in the comment section. It’s really important for all of us working within the nonprofit sector to support one another and share information—we’re in this together!