Often when RMA is meeting with a new nonprofit client and we are beginning our work together, reviewing the essential characteristics of the organization’s mission, board, operations, funding, and so on, we also discover that certain housekeeping or logistical matters are neglected. It’s natural and nothing to be embarrassed by; especially in growth-stage nonprofits where the focus is on program, there are often infrastructure and “process” pieces that just haven’t been a priority.
Or, how often do you hear yourself say, “Yes, we really do need to do that” . . . but the time for it never comes?
This exercise assumes that your critical strategic and operational plans are largely in place–you have development goals, board and staff calendars include retreats and opportunities to learn, you write a budget, you evaluate program results, and so on.
Here is a monthly checklist for 2014 that might help you carve out time for those other, seemingly lower priorities. In some cases, the discipline of getting them addressed might save you from a disaster down the road. Consider this:
January. Start the year with some simple housekeeping, like confirming the presence and access your group has to both literal and electronic tools. Update your list of keys, log-ins, common passwords, and security codes.
February. Yes, it’s the month for love. Invest an hour or two in some handwritten personal notes to anyone and everyone who matters to you, shares your values, or contributes to your success. There are board members or staff who would probably enjoy helping.
March. Check your toolbox. Is there anything like the boost you get when a new computer arrives? Can you do something this month to improve the tools you work with, even smaller things like new thumb drives or a new printer? Yes, tools cost money. They also do wonders for morale and productivity.
April. Go green for spring. In what ways could your nonprofit’s offices or operations be more eco-friendly? Can you eliminate more paper and use more digital files? Can you step up your recycling activity? How about getting your vehicles serviced so they will run more efficiently (air filters, fuel filters)?
May. Before summer vacations pull your board members away, this could be a great time for a board self-evaluation. Using an anonymous electronic survey and open-ended questions, how is your group doing with its own culture and governance? Are your meetings worthwhile? How do people really feel about timing, location, participation, and expectations? Collecting feedback can be a great assignment for a chair-elect to present to the group for discussion.
June. Many smaller nonprofits neglect staff performance evaluations, and although the conventional ones are controversial (some say even counter-productive), consider creating a way for each person to set stretch goals, review individual strengths and weaknesses, and define ways to be more successful. Some organizations detach this process entirely from anniversary hire dates or compensation adjustments.
July. Make more time to listen. How about a mid-year survey or short-interview project of your clients or customers? How could you make it easier for people of all ages and technology preferences to give you feedback?
August. In summer’s “dog days,” find some time to do a vendor check-in. Should the providers of your phone service, printing, web hosting, janitorial, catering (etc.), be thanked, re-negotiated, changed? Too often we just keep going on existing relationships just because it’s easy.
September. Before fourth-quarter appeals or campaigns launch, set aside some extra time to work on your data list(s). Clean, proof, update, purge. Even a few hours can make a huge difference.
October. Assuming you have a server where you store files, can you honestly say that it is organized, current, and not overly full of redundant or outdated documents? Don’t wait until capacity is an issue. Like the data files or your donors or volunteers, a few hours organizing your server is never a bad idea and always helps save time in the future.
November. One Friday afternoon together with mulled cider and classical music playing is a great way to have a paper purging party for staff. (OK, so the details are up to you, but you get the idea.) If your organization existed before 1998, odds are good you are dutifully storing too much paper. Be sure to recycle. One 50-year-old nonprofit we know literally eliminated 50 file cabinets, which created a great new conference space.
December. With board and/or staff, review your checklist. How did you do? What else would you add? Write your own list for 2015!