March 14, 2013

Nonprofits have faced a challenging situation during the Great Recession. Contributions have declined for the majority of organizations, but demand for services has skyrocketed as more people than ever are in need.

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The question is, how do you improve productivity while maintaining client service standards – a concern for many nonprofits that don’t want to see clients treated in assembly-line fashion.

Think of the process as pruning away nonessentials so that your core services and outcomes blossom when energy is channeled to them and diverted from nonessential activities. In tandem, educating staff in critical skills areas now will improve the quality and effectiveness of their work and time management.

With constraints of funding and time, setting the right priorities becomes crucial. The first thing to realize is that all activities are not equally important. In fact, staff may spend a lot of time on tasks that are redundant, waste time, or have outlived their usefulness in the life of your organization.

In addition, some programs are probably more effective in reaching your desired outcomes than others. Be willing to put everything on the chopping block in the interests of determining the best use of resources.

Engaging your staff in this process is essential. Reminding staff of the purpose behind their work – the impact on clients’ lives – is the most effective way of immediately boosting their productivity, a study by the Inside Influence Report has found.

Begin with a discussion of your organization’s purpose and successes. Identify the programs and services most central to your organization, the ones most effective in numbers reached and the depth of impact. These are your core, essential activities.

Next, diagram the process from intake to outcome for each program or service, identifying each step. Ask your staff how long each step typically takes.

What you’re looking for here are ways to eliminate duplication of effort, streamline paperwork and clear bottlenecks. Perhaps the same information is entered more than once. Or a task bounces back and forth between staff members.

Consider ways to better screen clients so that efforts go to the ones who truly qualify, have the greatest need or are the most committed. Standardizing forms and processes can save a lot of time, reducing the need for staff to figure things out. This frees up time for the meaningful work – actually assisting clients.

Professional development for your staff will increase their confidence as well as their competency. The Nonprofit Leadership Alliance has identified 13 competencies essential for nonprofit leadership.

Because of the nature of the nonprofit environment, training employees in leadership skills may be more important than in the private sector. Many nonprofit employees manage programs, engage with stakeholders and promote the nonprofit in the community.

Being capable in their task areas is not enough. New information, opportunities, and inquiries constantly bombard staff, and they must have the ability to quickly prioritize and respond.

The Nonprofit Leadership Alliance competencies related to productivity include nonprofit management; community outreach/marketing and public relations; volunteer management; and program planning, implementation and evaluation.

Learning best practices in these areas will help employees become more proficient in their jobs. Impact analysis in planning and using a variety of social media platforms for communications are two emerging skill areas the alliance regards as important for nonprofit success.

Wise use of technology may be a tool to greater productivity in your organization. Online survey services, for example, make the process of gathering and analyzing impact and opinion data much easier.

Using social media platforms for outreach and fundraising can be cost-effective, and the ability to accept online donations, especially Paypal, has streamlined giving. In the past, many nonprofits used outdated computers and software. Today such false economy puts organizations at a serious disadvantage.

Courses and training are widely available in formats from one-day classes to multi-month certification programs as part of bachelor’s degrees. Nonprofit Leadership Alliance courses and certifications are available on campuses nationally. offers web-based courses and certification that meet CRFE and CEU requirements.

The Society for Nonprofit Organizations also provides accredited web-based education and certification. State-based nonprofit associations often offer education and consulting in nonprofit management and leadership.

The National Council of Nonprofits lists many, but is not an exhaustive source. For example, the Georgia Center for Nonprofits provides nonprofit education but is not a member of the National Council. Alternatively, nonprofit consultants offer personalized training and coaching to organizations.

A combination of process improvement and education can help your organization meet its mission more efficiently during these challenging times.

This article was originally posted on March 14, 2013 and the information may no longer be current. For questions, please contact GRF CPAs & Advisors at