Non Profit Organization: Behind The Scenes
Working for a non profit organization isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it.
I started my career in my 3rd year of continued education when I accepted the opportunity to become a Technology Instructor for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Newark, NJ’s after-school education program.
A few weeks after starting, I realized just how important the Boys & Girls Clubs of Newark (BGCN) was to the local community, and for a good reason… it’s been instrumental in after-school and summer enrichment education for Newark’s youth since 1938!
Children enter the program for $15 a year if they aren’t scholarshipped and age-out of the club after learning everything they can from the organizations many programs, hopefully leaving them with the desire and skills to do well for themselves in the real world.
While the community benefits from educated youth, it’s not all smiles and hugs for staff behind the scenes of a non profit organization.
The Facade Of Smiles
Truth be told that success does not come easily. I have seen and experienced my fair share of unhappiness, misfortune, and tears in the darkness behind closed doors. These are the typical not-so-happy memories of sacrificing your own happiness to instill happiness in others.
While every situation is different, most frustration and lack of enthusiasm stems from one or more of the following scenarios:
Not Believing In Ourselves
Plenty of staff quit as fast as they are hired once they realize how much effort is needed just to carry on day-to-day tasks. Many believe they are unable to offer enough of themselves to the organization, or simply don’t want to. Others doubt they could make a difference at all given the lack of resources and/or support.
Wearing Too Many Hats
When a non profit organization is grossly understaffed, the skeleton crew is worked to the bone. Many of the staff who make it so far to be considered part of the skeleton crew often decide to move on to greener pastures, which ultimately makes running the organization even harder for those still in employment there.
Deadlines for proposals, grants, inspections and so forth often seem to require an overnight turnaround. Anyone who has worked a full day to realize an hour before the shift is over that a grant is due the following day becomes more overwhelmed, especially when other staff members are unable to pitch in due to their own task deadlines.
Lack of Funding
When there are no funds available to run programs or campaigns effectively, staff panic. It’s even worse when it gets to the point that emergency funds are depleted and the source of your next paycheck becomes unknown. Staff talk amongst themselves and it never ends well.
Not Enough Support
The need for causes may fluctuate with the trends, and a non profit organization may feel the financial pressure when donations are being intercepted by a trending cause, such as major hurricane damage in the area, or a competing organization.
Misguided or Currupt Management
Often, those who are in executive level or board-member positions make questionable choices that bottom-level staff just can’t wrap their heads around, like program cuts, executive salary increases or unnecessary lay-offs.
When an organization is in the process of getting sued, or is in heated water on or offline, the staff is inundated with calls from reporters, donors and general supporters trying to get answers. Most staff is purposely left in the dark, leaving them feel helpless and unvalued.
The Key To The Light
It’s easy feel pressured into making decisions that aren’t best for the organization. If you start to notice the darkness closing in, it’s important to realize that you are in this position because of a common cause. A true leader will find the light in every situation and offer to help others, whether they are executive level staff or not.
Leaders will carry the organization by implementing the following procedures:
Focusing On The Team
In times of doubt, think about what the team needs in order to carry out their positions working for the cause in which you share with them. Never guilt or scare your staff into staying, as continually unsatisfied team members with spread their unhappiness with others like a disease.
Instead, ask them what they need to be satisfied with the work they are putting into the organization and do everything in your power to make that happen for them. Set realistic expectations for yourself and the team, and try to exceed them. A strong team will stand behind a strong leader.
Empower the team by involving them in big decisions. Intently listen to everyone’s opinions and don’t be quick to dismiss them.
Consider those crazy ideas you may have quickly dismissed in the past and give them a second thought. Run the idea by others and see how they would be able to pitch in.
Once an idea is in place, see it through to completion. If it is an ongoing project, create a dedicated team who are genuinely interested in the project and who embody the skills necessary to make the project a success. Never give up on this team.
Staying Calm and Collected
Your team will follow your lead, thus it is pertinent to keep yourself calm and collected and thinking positively and creatively to discover solutions. Make every intention to suppress any feelings of fear or nervousness.
In moments of extreme uncertainty, it is OK to show a little emotion, but do not let it overcome you. Tackle it with positive thoughts and encouragement and let your team know that as long as they have your back, you have theirs.
Non Profit Organization Health and Happiness
By proactively following the procedures above, you will help your organization avoid the darkness all-together.
The solutions above have helped me serve the best I could, and climb the ladder from Technology Instructor, to Technology Coordinator, to Director of Marketing and Technology and additionally serving as the co-founder and Director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Newark Bike Exchange in the short span of three and a half years.
Even with all of the politics and drama, I still recommend everyone work for an organization at least once in their life… it is truly rewarding and extremely valuable to future employers.