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New Media and the One-Person Non-Profit Shop Dilemma, Part 1

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Okay, yes, it's been awhile since my last entry. What's my excuse? I've been busy, of course. And in thinking about that, it occurred to me many of you out there are in exactly the same position I am: you know you should be blogging, emailing, tweeting, etc. but you think, "Yeah right. Who's got the time? I'm already trying to do it all. How can I possibly add one more thing to my to-do list?"
Well, you do have a valid point. In my "other" (non-professional) life I'm a mom of two kids aged 4-1/2 and almost-2. Just getting them fed, dressed, and where they need to be everyday is an exercise in minute-by-minute time management. I know I'm not alone; we all have families of one kind or another and multiple demands on our time. Throw in a job and - whoa! It's crazy. 

In the case of many non-profits, there is only one paid staff person, or maybe only one full-time person, and he or she is often only (technically) part-time. What I've found as a consultant is that it's harder to manage part-time work than full-time work. (For those of you full-timers who are currently scoffing, I say: walk a mile in our moccasins sometime.) Look at it this way: we only get paid so much for a certain number of hours, but sometimes things take longer than expected (I call it "project creep"), and often there is no set schedule of when you are "on the clock" and when you aren't. It's hard to say to a board chairperson, "I'm sorry, it's Tuesday so I can't talk to you until tomorrow," or, "I'm sorry that the roof is leaking, but I've already gone through my hours this week," or, "Yes, that's a great funding opportunity but it's too bad the proposal is due on a Friday because I don't work Fridays."

So there you are, lonely non-profit staffer, incredibly well-intentioned but already hopelessly behind, and here I come along saying, "If you haven't jumped into new media to promote your non-profit you'd better do it quick or risk being left behind." And it's not just me: check out this issue of Guidestar's monthly email newsletter (you'll have to create a login but it's free). What do you do? Do you cover your ears and run into a corner (very tempting sometimes, I know)?

I wouldn't advise that option. First, take a deep breath. Ok, now let's talk. We're dealing with two givens here: on the one hand, you already have way too much to do; on the other, I'm telling you you've got to jump into this pool at some point. Impassable dilemma? I hope not.

It's true that you probably cannot add more to your workload. Whenever you're doing one thing you're not doing something else (probably many things, actually). So the answer to how you fit new media into your workload is simple, really: you have to give up doing something else.

"But but but" I can hear you (and your board?) stammer. "Everything we do is important and critical." Is it really? Now is a great time to look hard at what you are spending precious staff hours on, and to sort those things into boxes labeled, "Critical - we would close down without it," "Important to somebody," "We have no choice, we have to spend time on this because...." and "We've been doing this pretty much forever." Notice that I didn't ask you to evaluate the efficacy of the activities. We'll talk about that later.

Now, sort out the same list of activities, only this time label them by audience - who is benefiting? Clients/audience, board, staff (paid and volunteer), and whomever else.

Finally, sort the same list into two categories: those activities that directly support your non-profit's bottom line, and those that don't.

You'll end up with a small handful, maybe two or three things that emerge as absolutely non-negotiable top priorities. Are "communicating with donors, raising funds, and providing direct services to our clients" on that list? Probably. And these are all activities that new media can help you with.

What about the rest? Can you give up doing something, or do it in a simpler way, in order to allow yourself more time on the mission critical stuff?

All right, I feel your pain at this point. You go do what you need to do, and come back soon for Part 2 of this post.

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