I have a confession: many moons ago I was involved in a multi-level marketing “opportunity” with my wife. Yes, we took the plunge like so many starry-eyed folks do. You just have to find 5 friends, and then they’ll find 5 friends! We were really excited to get started and began to work diligently to make diamond status, or inner circle, or whatever it was. We created elegant handouts, we designed beautiful business cards, we created a Myspace page (yup, it was long time ago). But then this strange thing happened: nothing. Absolutely nothing. Why, you ask? We failed to do priority #1: actually call our friends and family. Despite all our best efforts and diligence at managing every other area of the business, we didn’t focus on the one thing that would actually make a difference.
I embarrass myself with this story to make a point. Our end goal was to grow the business, but all our efforts didn’t actually move the needle.
Similarly, when starting a nonprofit there is a laser focused on the mission and the desired positive outcomes. But, when growth begins, things start to become more complex and that laser sharp focus begins to dull. Now, no one wants this to happen, but despite our best human efforts we just can’t do everything perfectly, there just isn’t enough time in the day. So, what needs to happen at this juncture? It’s a simple question to ask (and the one question I didn’t ask myself)…
Am I being effective, or just efficient?
As your nonprofit begins to grow there is increasing pressure to reduce operational costs, ensure tight alignment with the board, manage a growing team, all while keeping your personal sanity in check. Now, all these things are good things. But the key to being effective over efficient is to know what things am I doing right vs. what are the right things to do.
Every nonprofit is going to have a different answer to what being effective means for them, but here are some questions to ask and things to look at to give yourself a gut check:
“The far greater priority than becoming more efficient is learning how to identify what’s most important – that is, what’s best – and then translate that into action. The mistake of superficial efficiency is that it sacrifices people on the altar of tasks. That’s backward. As we will see later, efficiency exists so that you can serve others better, not sacrifice them to efficiency.
One of the best places for efficiency is being efficient with things so that you can be effective with people. If you become more efficient with things (for example, by setting up your computer, desk, workflow system, and files to operate in the most efficient way possible), you will have more time to give to being effective with people without feeling like you are always behind on your tasks” (pg. 48-49)
2. Do my donors care? Do I even know?
Donors are the lifeblood of any organization. Generally, people give to your cause because of a deep connection with your work. Perhaps they have a family member affected by your cause, or have seen the effect of the work in the community. It’s what drives them to give, and what keeps them giving. As the organization grows though, so does your donor base, and it becomes increasingly difficult to ‘listen’ to your donors. After a while a donor cultivation strategy can start to take on a one size fits all approach, because “hey, it’s just too hard to personalize at scale”. Many times, efficiency can begin to take over for effectiveness. This is a pivotal juncture to ensure that you fight for doing what’s right, rather than what is easy. Don’t give up on what made your donors love you to begin with: a personal connection and belonging to the cause.
Fight for them and ensure you are reaching them in ways that are meaningful and impactful to each individual. Focus on being effective here so instead of seeing a .5% decrease in fundraising costs, you’re able to see a 10x increase in contributions.
3. Does it bring joy?
Whoa. Don’t get all touch feely, right? Perhaps this last one is the most simple, but often the hardest to do. There is a good chance you are doing what you’re doing today because of a passion for your cause and a burning desire to see change. Yet sometimes we can feel buried in the daily minutia. Now I’m not claiming that there is a magic wand that waves that all away, but what I can say is that ‘busyness’ generally starts to creep in when we lose focus on what made us busy to begin with. For example, I restored a classic car about a decade ago and after a while I become so obsessed with keeping it clean that I forgot why I originally bought it: to drive it. Don’t forget what is driving you and fueling that fire. Make sure to keep stoking it by focusing on the areas that keep the fire burning. The world depends on you.
The Virtuous team has made it our life mission to help charities navigate this very difficult world of being effective vs. efficient. If you’d like to understand how the proper technology can enable you to be effective in the ways that will move your charity forward, schedule some time with us. We are better together.