One year ago I left the nonprofit world after more than a decade to take a position at LimeRed Studio and re-enter the private sector.
Like many of you, I wore many hats with each organization which included: PR, marketing & communications, development, programming, training, project management, made photocopies, marshaled rallies, went to (long) meetings, built websites, developed reports, fixed the printer, swept the floor… well, you get the picture.
Many of my close and former colleagues have asked how the transition has been and in all honesty, it has been a very smooth one. This shift was helped by the fact that LimeRed Studio has such a strong human-centered mission with the majority of our clients being nonprofits.
Reflecting on my first year at LimeRed there are many things Ive learned that I think would be helpful for nonprofits to know. In some cases you and your nonprofit are already practicing these things, and if you are you deserve a high-five!
Here are my top five lessons learned from private business that might help nonprofits:
Build the right teams
Focus on the strengths of each member of your team and keep them balanced. Whether you are an intern, manager, in a small or large organization, you have to rely on each other to get things done. Team members should be valued and understand their role clearly. Their individual strengths should always have opportunities to be expressed but guided by leadership and the overall mission. A strong team knows that how they relate to and rely on one another is much more sustainable and proven to be more successful. Invest in activities that allow the team to recognize the strengths of their colleagues and how they relate to and support each other. Always invest in strengthening the ability of the team as a whole to visualize and realize the mission.
Stop meeting for hours and invest in improving efficiency
I used to sit in a meeting for hours only to be followed by another meeting to recap the previous meeting…weve all been there. Nonprofits are not the only organizations vulnerable to this type of situation. There will always be a need to call a meeting, but try to minimize that need and focus on ways to be more productive through collaborative work. When you have the right team in place and allow those team members to relate, share, and communicate with one another, they are more likely to identify problems and solutions together while getting work done. The team will also be more prepared to consult with key decision makers when the need arises to discuss issues, plans or problems.
Develop, innovate, and improve your processes
We are all incredibly busy helping the communities we serve which becomes harder as the challenges become more complex. Most nonprofits get stuck in tactical mode, always responding to external forces and finding it difficult to keep up or get ahead. When your nonprofit is getting ready to develop that 5-Year Plan make sure that it involves a process that is inclusive at all levels so that everyone can participate in leading innovation. Theres nothing more frustrating than evaluating your performance after five years and realizing youve missed your mark. Have a big idea but approach it with the right process, methods and flexibility of more smaller manageable objectives that can lead to achieving long-term strategic goals.
Know exactly what you want and then ask questions
Looking back at the most successful projects and relationships weve built with clients this past year Ive noticed one thing, these nonprofit clients know exactly what they want and always come prepared to ask questions. They also trust us as the experts who will help them understand how to approach the problem. One of the biggest mistakes a nonprofit can make in managing a project with a vendor is neglecting whats best for the actual project and focusing more on the control of the project. The worst case scenario is a tug-of-war between the nonprofit and the vendor which puts the success of the project at risk. Communication is always the key, especially for the nonprofit project lead who has to work hard to clearly convey the needs of the organization to the vendor. The nonprofit should help define the challenges while the vendor defines best possible solutions. Together they can focus on developing a successful project that meets both their standards.
Understand your value and market yourself
The work you do is important and changes peoples lives for the better. One thing has become very clear to me over the last year, the private sector invests a lot in marketing their brand, products, and services. Nonprofits should try their hardest to do the same. Some of the most successful nonprofits Ive met with or worked with this past year understand the value of their work and know that there are people out there willing to engage or donate to their cause. They invested in ways to present themselves to these people with high-quality materials that best represent their work, some have even invested in developing their own internal creative team. By doing this, theyve seen healthy growth and in turn changed more peoples lives. Take every opportunity to present yourself, your mission, and your message whether its on a billboard, Facebook, or every time you pick up the phone.
One of the main reasons that I studied multimedia and web development was my belief that peoples stories make a huge impact for mission driven work and many were either not being heard, or being interpreted in the wrong way. The one thing I will always keep with me is that nonprofits and community groups are helping change the world. It is my personal mission here at LimeRed Studio to help tell your stories.