Thursday, March 23, 2017

More Staff Isn't Always the Solution

Have you ever met a fundraising operation at a nonprofit with plenty of staff, money, time, and resources? Didn't take you a long time to come up with the answer now did it. I agree, many of our organizations are vastly under-resourced. However, often times as a consultant, when I ask teams what they need the most, the first thing they mention is that they need more staff. More staff isn't always the solution. I may become public enemy #1 for saying this but more people isn't what we need. We need to examine our processes and the way we do our work first before asking for more bodies. Leadership is constantly pressed for more FTE (full time equivalents) but they're not always presented with creative solutions that don't add to the human resource line. one of the unique opportunities I bring in when I assess an operation and help them with their fundraising is to look at work, press and ask questions until I hear that common phrase of "we've always done it that way". Even better is when I stumble across a "I don't know why I do it this way".

Once we've found those road blocks we can work together to find solutions. Can't get the reports you need to perform your duties, you don't always need to hire another full time report writer for your database, maybe you need to hire an outside firm to write a series of reports for you once. Acknowledgments taking more than 10-15% of your total donor relations FTE? You may not need another writer, you need to look at your process and find your pain points.

Are your impact reports all consuming, with financial endowments and the like? Let's look at ways technology can streamline your process or make your systems talk to each other. Sometimes it's as simple as finding a new way to work in Microsoft Excel or Word. Did you know you can sort on color of the cell? Did you know you can duplicate formatting with one keystroke? Don't let your own skill set limit you! Google your problem and BAM! the answer is there in step by step results.

We do great work for a living, but at times we're too busy chopping down trees to sharpen our axes. When's the last time you took a good hard look at what you're doing and why. Do you have the time to examine your processes and the work you do or are you just constantly overwhelmed? I often discover the latter- take the time to look up and sharpen your axes! I'm constantly on the lookout for new tools to help. The time you set aside to innovate will be well worth it. Imagine if we spent half of the time saying "we need more staff" and instead said "let's look at this critically".

Now, I'm not saying that more staff is NEVER the answer. I am often shocked at how LEAN some of fundraising departments are. One coordinator or administrative position can completely transform a department sometimes. Or just paying our overachievers more is the answer. What we all don't need is more middle management, I know we can agree on that. If the position goes to meetings and forwards emails all day with no work output, then we certainly don't need more than one of those! Don't underestimate the power of a doer, a tasker, someone who can really crank on the work. Just remember that one of the biggest consumers of our time is managing people.

I would love to hear your thoughts, when is adding a staff member the only choice and when do you examine process? Remember it's really tough to make the case for additional staff if the work product coming from your area isn't top notch.  Additional staff doesn't make your work better, it allows you to take on more. Let's make sure we don't get that confused. There's nothing more perplexing to leadership than a department that produces mediocre results asking for more. Excel with what you have, then ask!

Thoughts? Points of correction or debate? I'd love to hear from you!



  1. Spot on! We are working our way through setting up a fundraising shop. Exhausting, yet, exhilarating. Much of what you've written above are things we've stopped to consider. Overwhelming, the amount of resources, tools, and thoughts/ideas on the topic. I have to say, not a brown nosing comment :), you have been at the top of my list of resources on the topic. Innovative, creative, outside the box and I love the methods, useful, practical, and able to implement without adding staff and hours to our processes.

    Thanks Lynne!

  2. You continue to be our coach reminding us about the core fundamentals we all need to excel in. Great perspective! thanks for posting this.


  3. Excellent advice--not just for donor relations and fundraising operations, but for any organization in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors!

  4. While our operating budget is under $250K, we have assets close to $1 million and have a paid staff of 1 (myself)! About a year ago, we started working with a 3rd party to transition us on to Quickbooks and assist us with event mailings which has helped a lot. While that itself has taken some getting used to, it's nice to know we have someone who can help us out as needed without having another paid staff member.

  5. You are right on the mark. I also do development assessments and when staff is needed it's always at the administrative level. That change can unlock log jams, and the new staff bring their own insights and ways to streamline work flow. They also can end up asking, "Why do we do it this way?"

  6. Lynne, fabulous post! Very inspiring and spot on. JPG

  7. Question Lynne - I am part of a three person team of which I supervise. To be quite honest, I don't have enough to do. We may be losing one of our team members to a new opportunity. My initial thought is for the remaining two of us to absorb her responsibilities. What is the best way to propose this idea? Would it be appropriate to ask that the remaining two of us receive raises as a result of taking on added responsibilities from another position?

  8. I love your refreshing honesty. I think your leadership would as well. I would start with a conversation but leave the compensation for last. First talk about your professional growth and how they can invest beyond salary then bring up salary. The increase though would not be like taking that person's salary and splitting it between you, if you know what I mean....

    1. I absolutely understand and appreciate the feedback!

  9. Great article! I completely agree that a lot of times it is easier to focus on the staff needs and overlook the underlying problems. The frustrating thing that I find is that due to the aggressive goals and staff turnover of the places I've worked, slowing down to evaluate the process just isn't accepted by most leadership team members or the boss. Anyone have any tips or specific ways to frame this to the leadership team? I'm all for reviewing the process and thinking critically for new solutions. It may not be sexy, but it is vital for sustainable success!

  10. "More staff isn't always the solution. I may become public enemy #1 for saying this but more people isn't what we need. We need to examine our processes and the way we do our work first before asking for more bodies."

    Spot on.

    We also have to be honest about what's working and what's not working, even if what's NOT working has worked well in the past. We have to be willing to let things go when they are no longer effective, especially if projects are depleting staff time which could be better used elsewhere.