Effective Time Management for Non-Profit Managers

by Joe Garecht

Clock Face

At most non-profits I visit (particularly small and medium sized non-profits), there always seems to be a lot of work to do, and never enough time (or people) to do it.

This is partly the nature of non-profit work: because we spend so much of our resources on serving our mission, we rarely have enough people on staff or enough money dedicated to buying the materials and technology we need.  Part of the reason for this situation, though, is that many (if not most) non-profit managers are not using their time as effectively as they could be.

This too is part of the nature of the modern non-profit.  Non-profit managers (Executive Directors, Development Directors, Program Managers, etc.) spend their professional development time learning how to raise money and how to run programs, but not how to be good businesspeople.  My hope is that someday, non-profits will learn that knowing how to run the business side, and how to be a good leader / manager, are both as important as learning how to fundraise or how to run phenomenal programs.

If you’re a non-profit manager (or want to be), here are some of the things you’ll need to learn in order to get everything done that you need to get done, without working 80 hour workweeks:

Planning is the Prerequisite

Do you have a written plan for the coming year?  Do you know what needs to get done and when?  Have you broken down your plan into manageable tasks, with deadlines and staff assigned to each?

It’s impossible to get a good handle on your time without knowing what needs to get done.  If you haven’t already, sit down and write up a plan for your area of management.

At the larger organizations I have managed, I like to draw up this plan into an easy to read dashboard that contains each task, the person(s) responsible for completing each, and the deadline when each needs to be completed, and circulate that plan to each staff member in advance of a weekly staff meeting when we review the dashboard to see what is on track, what is not, and where others can pitch in to get off the rails projects back on track.

If you don’t know where to start in getting your non-profit tasks organized and deadlines set, use the simple 5 step plan I laid out in this guest post I did for A Small Change Fundraising Blog: Stop the Madness!  You can also use tools like visualizing your major donor funnel.

Even Though You Don’t Want to… Delegate

One common personality trait that runs through non-profit managers is an unwillingness to delegate.  If you have a staff or competent volunteers at your disposal, you will never, ever get the work done without delegating.

The best way to delegate to your staff is to be clear and direct.  If you use a dashboard as mentioned above, this task becomes even easier – you simply let everyone know that the person listed is responsible for the outcome of each task / project.  Show your staff that you trust them and will be relying on them, and then let them fly.  Check in with them regularly, but trust them to complete their assigned projects, until they prove you otherwise.

Focus on Thinking Big

As a non-profit manager, the person responsible for thinking big at your organization is… YOU!  You should be taking a global view, making audacious plans, and setting high goals for your staff.

If you say you can’t do that because you have too much paperwork to do, see the previous tip: delegate!  Obviously, if you are a one or two person shop, you won’t be able to delegate as much to staff, but you should seek out competent volunteers that work for you on a regular basis that you can trust to complete delegated items.

Don’t spend your time doing paperwork or filing reports… spend your time managing and thinking big!  (For inspiration on thinking big, read one of my all time favorite posts: Thinking Big in Fundraising).

Cut Back on E-Mail, Voicemail, and Social Media

As part of your job, you will be required to send and receive e-mails and answer voicemails, and you may need to be on social networking sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.  The single largest time drain for any office worker today is switching from projects to e-mail, voicemail, and social media every 30 minutes to “check in” and “stay on top of what’s going on.”

Set a limit for yourself as to how often you will check these items.  For myself, I like to answer emails and voicemails, as well as interact on social media, two main times per day: once in the morning, and once in the early afternoon, with a short check-in for urgent items at the end of the day.  If I need to hop on e-mail at another time to send a message, I don’t look at the new e-mails that have come in.  That will only get me off track.  Instead, I send the e-mail and close the e-mail program, until my next regularly scheduled e-mail time.

If you are someone who answers e-mails and Tweets as soon as they come in, try only checking twice per day.  You’ll be amazed at the amount of time you have to complete other projects and do the hard work of thinking big for your non-profit organization.

Photo credit Alfonso Siloniz

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