Where Nonprofit Staff Should Focus

Are you a nonprofit staff person responsible for fund-raising events or programs providing services to your clients or members? Are you expected to work with volunteers in governance, event management, and/or program delivery?

Where’s your focus?

Is it on the tasks related to those events or programs?

Or, do you focus on the volunteers who provide the governance, raise the funds or deliver those services?

If you work for a nonprofit using a model where volunteers provide leadership at the governance, event and program levels, then your focus should be on your volunteers, not on the tasks you need to complete.

A Tale Of Two Staff People

Gretchen, a staff person with both fund-raising and mission responsibilities, was very detailed oriented. She was adept at taking a goal and breaking it down into manageable parts. But she only cared about this year’s goals. To her, fund-raising volunteers existed only to raise funds, she never thought they might be interested or able to help mission delivery or marketing the organization. She couldn’t see outside the silos. A hard worker, she made her goals the first year. But many of the volunteers “retired” rather than work with her the next year. She found it harder to recruit volunteers to fill those positions and wound up doing the volunteers’ work herself. She burned out at the end of her second year and left the organization.

Tina also had fund-raising and mission responsibilities. But she made it a point to get to know her volunteers and to determine what motivated them to volunteer. She would discuss mission needs with fund-raising volunteers and vice-versa. She took time to explain the “big picture” to her volunteers and to show them how they made a difference. She spent additional time providing volunteers with recognition related to their motivations. For example, her volunteers who worked in banks and utilities were expected to be involved in civic activities. When they successfully completed an event or program, she wrote a thank you letter to volunteers’ managers. Her volunteers were more motivated, which meant they were more successful. They volunteered longer meaning she spent less time recruiting replacements. As they became more experienced, they found it easier to raise funds or deliver those programs because they learned what worked and what didn’t.

Gretchen focused on tasks. Tina focused on people. Gretchen left after two years. Tina was promoted and then promoted again.

All too often we get caught up in the tasks and fail to focus on people.

Zoom Out To 50,000 Feet

Let’s add some context.

Nonprofits must always keep their mission in mind. I call this being “Mission-driven.” This means that everything the organization and its staff does relates back to the mission. One of these is performance objectives for staff, another would be volunteer goals (especially in fund-raising).
Nonprofit staff should focus on developing their volunteers. If you work directly with donors, your focus should be on them, in the way that Nordstroms, Amazon.com and others focus on the customer.

But volunteers and staff are, ultimately, just resources (Okay, I apologize for saying “Just” in the preceding sentence.) They are the means to an end. The end consists of the results an organization needs to accomplish in order to fulfill its mission. Therefore a nonprofit should be:




For individual staff, your focus should be on your volunteers, not the tasks nor the organization.

Focus on your volunteers in order to produce the results needed to help fulfill your mission.

One thought on “Where Nonprofit Staff Should Focus

  1. Good thoughts Glenn. Sometimes there can be a lot of “people power” wasted in organizations. Even worse: when the core values printed on paper don’t match up with the actual organizational environment. You don’t want to feel like the guy or gal who hoped to skip the rodeo but then got lassoed into it. Volunteers are critical and can become monetary contributors or even pro bono consultants. Not the reason they should be valued, of course, but just other ways nonprofits can get help by simply creating a welcoming atmosphere and expressing the proper appreciation.

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