Friday, March 4, 2011

Singing the Infrastructure Blues at Your Small Nonprofit

Image by Escher
Trying to grow a small nonprofit is a tough job and in this economy, it's probably wise to focus on sustainability while having some strategies in mind for when growth becomes more feasible. But no matter whether your eyes are on maintaining a basic level of services or expanding your offerings, it's tough to balance the needs of your infrastructure (how you do things and manage your small nonprofit) while working to keep your mission fresh and lively.

Trying to get a handle on everything you need to do - especially when your staff may be counted on the fingers of one hand (or even on one finger) - can result in relying too much on the way you've got the system set up. In other words, letting the system take over, and losing the energy and creative spark that got you going in the first place.

One of the things I advocate, especially in these days of social media where information exchange and interaction in a community is easier than ever, is that very small and small nonprofits stop thinking of themselves as alone in the world or in competition with other organizations. It's only common sense to work with others in the same situation and help each other get through the bad times. Sure, it's not possible to always cooperate one hundred percent; you will probably not be compatible with other agencies in all areas and in some you definitely will be in competition. But you can agree to work together in areas that have mutual benefit: sharing information, referring contacts when you can, even sharing some resources (projectors, graphic designers, printing, etc.). You may find that even when times are better, this cooperation becomes a resource that is too valuable to let go of.

Should You Form a Cooperative?

It's possible. For a thought-provoking look at non-traditional models for taking care of business without losing your creativity or spark, take a look at this article by Corbett Barklie at The Nonprofit Quarterly. The language is more lecture room than conversation, but it's worth the extra time.

Social Media Tool of the week: Xobni

It's a mail enhancement (ha ha) tool used exclusively in Outlook and I recently had to do without it to help manage my inbox when my hard drive committed suicide. I reinstalled it recently and was reminded how valuable it is when trying to keep track of conversational threads or find a particular email or remind yourself of how you know your correspondent. Check it out here.

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