Picture a charity boardroom, at night. Around the table sits a group of tired looking volunteers. It has been a long evening sorting through the charity’s management issues. Promised funding has not come through, so the financial situation is tense. The issue before them is whether they should hire an Executive Director. You see, the charity has no employees. They hire contractors to work with the clients, but all the management positions are staffed with volunteers. And they are burning out. The Board members discuss what the Executive Director’s duties will be. All of a sudden, the room is alive with ideas, as the volunteer Board members sing out their most frustrating tasks. The loan holdout, the Treasurer (me), gives in and reluctantly votes for the motion. It carries unanimously.
Many of the managers and Executive Directors I have met in my work with charities have been thrust into their position. They signed up because of a deeply felt desire to help people, not to complete endless government reporting forms, interpret financial statements, stickhandle interpersonal conflicts, approve invoices, attend long meetings or budget for the future. But that’s what management is. The good thing about working in the nonprofit sector is that you don’t have to let go of all of the grass roots activities. Most managers roll up their proverbial sleeves and work directly with clients and volunteers. Not only does it help keep them grounded in the charity’s mission, but it’s also a necessity: charities are perennially understaffed.
What was your first day like?
If you are in management, how do you stay grounded?
PS: If you’re wondering about the story above, it has a happy ending. The charity went on to hire an Executive Director and she did a truly wonderful job of turning around the financial situation and increasing the number of people served. It was the best outcome for the charity and I am so glad they convinced me to support it.