It is an incredibly common complaint in the non-profit field…
“I want to spend more time helping my clients and less time in front of my computer or filling out paperwork.”
It is a perfectly sensible statement. No one makes the sacrifice to work for a non-profit because they love the thought of completing forms or spending more time in front of the computer screen. All the satisfaction comes from delivering quality help to your clients.
Sometimes with all the stresses, tracking of clients, long hours, etc., you can begin to forget the most simple of facts: it is all about directly helping people in large and small ways.
Of course, that is easy to say and agree with, but how do you do it? Are there real ways to do it?
Yes. In fact, here are 3 practical actions any organization can take:
Action #1: Take A Hard Look At What You Track
Things have a tendency to accumulate over time. This is especially true for the data collected about clients. When it becomes clear you need to track something else about a client, you add a question to the intake process or ask your staff to fill out an extra form.
But how often do you go back through looking for something to delete? Or analyze your process for duplication? Things just keep moving and sometimes it is just easier to keep adding instead of taking a hard look at what you are actually tracking.
Here is how to make this step less painful: don’t do it in an abstract way or think about theoretical ways to improve. Instead, pick a single client file and go through it step-by-step to see everything you collect, how you collect it, and most importantly, why you collect it. If you never reference it again, and there is no legal obligation to record it, then eliminate it. Non-profit leaders are often surprised to discover how much can be eliminated or condensed.
Action #2: Have A Monthly ‘Best Practices’ Open Discussion
This is a deceptively simple but powerful way to infuse fresh ideas into your non-profit. Make a commitment to a set aside time each month to gather your staff. If it is possible to make it the same time each month – that tends to make you more accountable to stick with it. (For example, “we will meet the 2nd Wednesday of every month at 10am to 11am”).
Next, prior to the meetings, give your team an assignment: everyone has to come to the discussion with at least one practical idea on some aspect of your process or services that could be improved. Emphasize that it needs to be practical.
When it comes time to have the discussion, here is how to run it. Give each person 2 to 5 minutes to present their idea. Once everyone has had a chance to present their idea, see if you can come to a group consensus on which idea to focus on for this discussion. (This does not mean the ideas not picked could not be selected at the next discussion).
Once you have an idea selected, have the group work together to refine the idea and come up with the concrete steps that would need to be taken to implement it. Finally, take an overall look to make sure that this idea will definitely improve your process or services. Usually it will, but sometimes it will need more thought.
Either way, this kind of open discussion is incredibly healthy for an organization.
Action Step #3: Leverage Technology
This can actually be an easier “win” than most people think. A lot of times people get intimidated when they hear about using technology to improve their non-profit. It sounds like everyone will have to be trained to learn complicated computer programs or become IT experts.
It also sounds expensive.
The opposite is actually the truth. Good software is actually simpler for the user, not less. Software specifically made for a particular field (like non-profits) will provide more clarity, not more confusion. And any software company worth its salt will have proper training available to make implementation a smooth process.
Cost is a factor, but there are affordable software solutions in the reach of even modest non-profits.
Here is a simple step you can take right now to explore technology options more in-depth. Click here to download the report, The Unofficial Guide to Electronic Case Management. It’s free, concise, and packed with information that can better help you understand your options.