Every non-profit organization begins with the spark of an idea of a community need that doesn’t currently exist. You might be surprised to learn that some of the most prominent non-profit organizations of today didn’t get their beginnings from tenured business people from the corporate world. Everyday people whose lives and core values were deeply affected by a personal tragedy, injustice, illness, accident or some other event that had a major impact on their lives formed organizations whose names you’d easily recognize.
A notable example of this is Candace Lightner, founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Candace was devastated to learn that her teen daughter was killed by a drunk driver as she walked to a church function with a friend in 1980.
She was outraged to learn that there would be little or no consequences for the drunk driver who hit her child. Candace channeled her grief into starting a non-profit organization that worked to educate others about the need for stronger penalties for drunk drivers. Before the accident, Candace was an ordinary mother and real estate agent. The tragic loss of her daughter motivated her to develop the non-profit MADD, which quickly turned into an international movement with nearly 400 chapters worldwide.
The formation of MADD and many other non-profit organizations proves that anyone can help to build an effective non-profit organization when they have the drive, the passion, and the tenacity to turn their cause into a community resource that greatly impacts the lives of those who need it.
Size of the Non-Profit Doesn’t Equal Effectiveness
Many effective non-profit organizations operate with limited budgets and an all-volunteer workforce. Others operate with multi-million dollar budgets, sophisticated programs, and have at least some paid staff. Non-profit organizations provide a valuable community service, and each of them can have high-quality boards and effective management, whether they are large or small.
Without regard to size, non-profit boards need to be aware of a couple of things. The corporate environment in the profit and non-profit sectors is becoming increasingly sophisticated. The upside is that non-profit entities have the availability of new opportunities around every corner. The downside is that for-profit corporations have raised the regulatory bar for all organizations, including non-profit groups.
These changes in the corporate environment mean that how non-profits approach their work is just as important as the work that they actually perform.
What Sets the Non-Profit Workforce Apart?
Non-profit organizations usually draw their volunteers and employees from people who have an emotional attachment to their mission. It may take them some time to understand where they can best plug in to become a vital and constructive part of the organization’s vision and mission.
As Candace Lightner demonstrated, the passion for a cause can transcend the lack of knowledge and experience in non-profit governance when the issue is important enough to someone.
In their eagerness to get their feet wet to further the cause of a non-profit, many individuals are eager to volunteer for anything and everything. Volunteers, who, with a little training and mentoring, can become staples of the organization. However, it is important to know how to use these volunteers effectively.
Building Effectiveness Within the Board, Staff, and Volunteers
Commitment is perhaps the most important quality that non-profit workers can have. The most effective workers in the non-profit sector have a commitment to learning about their role, a commitment toward planning and development, and a commitment to using their own resources and building new ones.
Commitment to Learning
Chances are pretty good that if non-profit board directors or volunteers aren’t familiar with a certain aspect of the governance or work of the organization, they can be trained to fill a needed role.
Non-profit workers can seek opportunities on their own, such as by studying Robert’s Rules of Order or doing personal research on non-profit governance and sharing that information with others in the group. More commonly, older members will take newer members under their wing and train them about the roles and responsibilities of board members, the principles of non-profit governance and the inner workings of the organization.
Older members can also be instrumental in helping newer members find the best place for them to utilize their strengths and abilities.
Commitment to Planning and Development
Non-profits need to be continually planning, developing and implementing their goals. Non-profit members need to have a commitment to helping strategize to make the most of the opportunities, as well as protect the organization from any unintended consequences.
Commitment to Participation
Most members of non-profit organizations join when they are at the peak of passion. The challenge for others in the group is to keep that passion ignited. Being an effective non-profit worker includes having a willingness to dedicate your personal time and resources to the cause.
The best way to do that is for non-profits to encourage regular participation in events and in board and committee activities. The executive director can be instrumental in developing non-profit talent. An effective executive director knows how to delegate and how to engage workers to maximize their interest, passion, and potential.
Effective executive directors are active listeners who evaluate feedback and set forums for small group discussion, brainstorming and answering questions. The fruits of this labor are likely to translate into an increased commitment from the workforce.
Commitment to Fundraising
Fundraising is the top priority for nearly every non-profit organization because financial stability funds the non-profit’s programs. Non-profit members are expected to set the example by their commitment to fundraising by making regular personal donations.
Effective non-profits seek members with experience in locating donors, approaching them, thoughtfully requesting funds and thanking donors appropriately. Organizations that lack members with experience can train members with an interest in fundraising, either by doing internal training or by taking advantage of workshops and other community training programs.
Effective members also need training on the best ways to allocate funds to implement the decisions of the board. As part of this training, members need to be aware of the importance of honesty and transparency in how their donors’ funds are being used. Donors place strong value in knowing that their funds are being used for the purpose that they intended.
Strong Advisory Networks Lead to Non-Profit Effectiveness
Every community has experts in various areas, including law, finance, insurance, business and other industries. Building a strong advisory network and gaining their trust is a win-win proposition. Not only does the non-profit benefit from their expertise, but many community leaders are happy to have their local businesses aligned with a worthy cause.
Effective non-profits work to develop long-term relationships with such leaders and utilize them as volunteer advisors, paid service providers, consultants or peer colleagues.
Evaluations Help to Assess Non-Profit Effectiveness
Increased funds, added donors and expanding memberships are just a few ways to gauge the effectiveness of a non-profit organization.
The board and executive director are the driving forces behind maintaining and implementing strategic planning for growth. Effective non-profits have identified procedures for assessing and evaluating the executive directors, individual board members, and the whole board.
It may surprise you to know that Candace Lightner left MADD about a year after she started the organization. The passion and leadership of parents who joined her efforts have continued to hold the torch high against drunk drivers. That’s a prominent sign of an effective non-profit board.