There's a System for That!
One of the most common complaints I hear from small nonprofit staffs is that there is too much to do and not enough time. Yet every great, big nonprofit started out as a small one. What makes the difference? How do some nonprofits grow and flourish while others stay small? When it comes to getting things done, here's the secret: leverage.
Leverage: the mechanical advantage or power gained from using a lever. The use of a small investment to gain a very high return.
Leverage is about thinking smarter and figuring out how to make the most of the small amount of time you have. You don't have to work harder — you just need to do more with what you have, to leverage yourself.
One of the easiest ways to leverage your time is to create systems. A system is a method of doing something so you get the same result every time. Think about Starbucks. When you order your favorite drink, it's prepared the same way every time, right? That's no accident. And it doesn't matter which Starbucks you go to across the country, you get a consistent drink.
Let's apply that concept to your office. How do you handle a phone request for more information about your organization? Do you scramble around and try to make up something new to send? Do you direct the person to your website? Do you procrastinate because you just don't know what to send?
What if you take a few minutes to think through this task and come up with a standard response? What information would you like the caller to receive? What action would you like him to take after reviewing the information? Think it through. Make a decision. Then write it down so you can refer to it next time someone calls. It may take some extra time right now to create the system, but it will save you lots of time in the long run.
In the late '90s, I was working as the development director in a small office, and occasionally we'd get credit card gifts. I hated those because I never remembered how to process them! It was such a pain because I had to get the little instruction manual out and find the right page. It drained my energy just thinking about doing it! Obviously we didn't get many credit card gifts. It finally occurred to me to write down the steps and save them for the next time I needed them. So, I did. And it worked! The next time I needed to run a credit card gift, I picked up my "cheat sheet" and whizzed right through the process! I was elated! After that, I started creating systems for other tasks that were difficult, time-consuming or heart-sinkers (things that when you think about doing, your heart sinks).
Creating a system
It's quite easy to create a system. I encourage you to create systems for just about everything you do. (If you do something more than once, you need a system.) Systems help you provide consistent service to your donors and the community. They help you streamline your work and save time because you aren't reinventing the wheel every time something happens. Systems help you feel calmer and more confident because you know exactly what needs to be done and how to do it. And once you have a system in place, you can easily teach someone else what to do to help you.
Start by noticing all your daily tasks. Maybe even keep a log to track everything you do. Here are some things I recommend you create written systems for: gift entry (entering donor gifts in your software); thank-you letters; creating a newsletter; updating your mailing list; writing a fundraising letter; preparing a grant proposal; building relationships with major donors; planning a special event; updating your website; recruiting volunteers; and evaluating success for your fundraising efforts.
Once you identify the tasks you need systems for, create a system and put it in writing. (There's something magical about putting things in writing — it makes them more real!) Think about the task and each individual step that makes up the task. Write down each step.
Once you document the task as it's being done, step back and think about it for a moment. Is that the way it should be done? Is there a better way to do it? Is there a step that needs to be removed or one that needs to be added? This is a great time to tweak your system and make it better!
Use your new systems. Try them out and see how they work. Change them if you need to. Over time, you'll find that you don't need to refer to the written processes anymore. The systems become part of your regular work routine, freeing up time and energy that you can spend on other things. FS