Usually you hear about scaling a business and before you think this episode is going too far down a corporate path, slow down and catch the core of this concept.
There IS a difference between growing your organization and scaling your organization. When you grow a business or organization, there is a stark expansion of departments, services, staff, and other resources. Scaling an organization is the ability to handle an increase of sales, services, or output in a reasonable way.
Successfully scaling your nonprofit organization will largely depend on a healthy infrastructure of culture, systems, and processes. We are going to explore some of the nuances in a nonprofit that will allow you to scale your ministry with minimal shock impact to your teams and those you serve.
I’ve worked with nonprofit organizations who experienced a little bit of growth, whether it was weekend attendance for a church or a period of increased fundraising, then made mistakes that you can now learn from and avoid in your own quest for sustainability.
Hiring extra staff: When team members are added reactively there is a good chance their position is not entirely aligned with both your vision AND values. It is easy to get swept up in the excitement of a great season. It is equally as heartbreaking when the tide turns and those same people have to be let go. Been there, done that.
Objective accountability is a phrase I learned from one of the leaders I have had the privilege of learning from. Mark Stevens, from The Rock Church in San Diego, created a system specifically for the megachurch he served for well over a decade. His system allowed staff to stay aware of expectations, know how to meet those expectations, and provide a clearly defined win.
When your existing staff not only knows their objective goals, but has a consistent culture of accountability AND the tools to be effective, you can scale elements of your organization with almost zero risk. The days in which we live are full of technology to help us streamline all the care we provide to the people we serve. Have you ever heard the phrase, “There’s an app for that”? There is. Pretty much anything.
Aside from technology to help you scale, this is where freelancers and consultants are incredibly valuable for a nonprofit strategy of growth and health. A coach or consultant can usually step in quickly and identify opportunities to simplify what you’re doing and allow you to stay lean while still maintaining programs and services that are important. Freelancers can support you behind the frontlines either strengthening areas of operations or freeing up staff to pivot temporarily or permanently.
Solid nonprofit management demands creative thinking and an open mind to adapt to changing needs and the world around you.
Come Back to the Main Thing
In periods of sustained growth you may reach a point where you truly need to add team members.
Review your mission, vision, and values. Ensure that programs and services you are adding are consistent with those and your 1 and 5-year plans.
Let’s say you’re a nonprofit focused on family-centric training to support kids pursuing education to eradicate generational poverty. We know education isn’t just about students and teachers, but healthy family units. You make a connection with a new school just outside the geographic area you’re already serving and decide to expand your program.
You know that there will be a diverse array of new requirements including fundraising, increased donor development, marketing/PR, and expanded communication/organization systems. Nonprofit management is a revolving consideration of new methodology to reach goals that remain fairly consistent in substance.
The main thing (your nonprofit organization’s sweet spot) is bringing this training and mentoring to families and seeing kids’ lives changed. ALL the requirements to make this expansion happen are the periphery. Don’t get distracted and try to expand your organization in ways that cause you to veer off track.
Back to the difference in scaling versus growing, this is the time to scale. With good business systems in place, like your CRM for donor communication, tracking for new schools and new families, workflows for adding new schools, and a process for recruiting and training new volunteer or paid coaches you can scale without panicking and hiring five new staff who aren’t really necessary.
During scaling periods you may need to outsource repetitive tasks such as weekly emails, social media posting, data entry for expense tracking or other simple elements like these. It is LOW commitment and will allow you the space and time to clearly think through the exact positions you need to add, if at all.
We aren’t going to get into the hiring phase that may come up here, but I will definitely say that the exercise required is detailing the exact position you need and not looking at a person first. For the sake of the organization, stay on track with an objective analysis of the skills and experience you need.
This has been a brief overview of how to scale your organization in a healthy and well thought through manner. If you can avoid knee-jerk reactions in moments of excitement then I have done my job. I want to see you increase your effectiveness in serving people, build a sustainable organization, and manage your people and resources well. Create a nonprofit strategy that will last far beyond your time in management.