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How Nonprofits Can Do More With Less (Without Working the Staff to Death)

Posted on 19th November 2010 by Gray Digital
By Admin |November 19th, 2010

It’s ironic really.  Many Nonprofit organizations that fight against exploitation of workers and various injustices here and abroad are running their offices like Third World sweatshops.   In a down economy, all businesses, nonprofit and for-profit alike, are talking about doing more with less.

Though the mantra of “do more with less” has come in vogue recently in the For-Profit sector, it has been the Nonprofit creed since the beginning of time.  Scandalous wages and work-a-holic hours are just part of the job description at a Nonprofit.  But that does not mean that we should not question this modus operandi.

8-hour work days should be 8, not 10 hours of work.  In order to complete the daily to-do list, a staffer should not have to arrive to work early, take lunch at her desk, stay late, and take work home.  Even if the staff handles the additional duties and time cheerfully, making the staff work that much is taking advantage of their good nature–especially in a down economy.

As a way of doing business, “do more with less” should NOT be about grunt work.  Sure, there will be times when everyone will have to pitch in for a big push on a program or campaign.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  But squeezing 50 hours of work from an employee paid for 40 hours should not be the norm.

There is a better way.

Your organization can do more with less without driving the new staffers to tears and the veteran staffers to insanity or an early grave.

It’s technology.

The common argument against new technology is that “our nonprofit doesn’t have a budget for that”.  Between special events, membership management, donor management, and the daily mission, the only technology our nonprofit needs to invest in for the staff is a defibrillator.

Consider this.

What is the biggest expense of any business—profit or nonprofit?  If you said labor, give yourself a gold star.

The Cost of Labor.

How much time does your staff devote to preparing lists for special events and membership by inputting data into spreadsheet programs like Excel?  If they average only one hour a day, they are spending 260 hours per year working on lists.  If your staffer is paid $12/hour, it means that your Nonprofit spends $3,120 per year just to input data into spreadsheets.  For some event-driven and membership-driven organizations, the time and costs are significantly higher.

Since the specific cost of labor for data entry is not itemized for an organization that pays a salaried employee or uses a volunteer, there is some natural inertia in warming up to the idea of investing in labor-saving web technologies.  But, the cost of a new technology investment  should be measured against the current cost of labor.

There’s a good chance an organization could recover the upfront costs of these systems within the first year.   In the long run, it will save thousands of hours of labor.  More importantly, the staff will be happier because they will be freed from their mundane data-entry duties and, instead, be able to focus on simply managing the lists and doing their other duties.

They might even be able to get home at a decent hour.

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