Does that sound silly? I’ll admit I am biased– not because I am a nonprofiteer or graduate student in Public Administration but because nonprofit management trends are on the rise and I am entrepreneurial (which, they say, comes with the Gen Y territory). Entrepreneurial traits such as vision, adaptability, flexibility, and a willingness to do some bootstrapping (thanks, Guy Kawasaki) are necessities when you work in a nonprofit organization that has limited monetary resources.
When an organization has limited funds, employees must rise to the occasion and they do. For example, according to a recent study, small nonprofit organizations are outperforming larger organizations online. These organizations with “zilch” saw an increase in online giving, had greater e-mail click-through rates than richer organizations, and generally had greater ROI from online outreach. These organizations are truly doing more with less.
A small organization with limited funds has the ability to have open communication among employees and a horizontal structure. The professional benefits don’t stop there: working for an organization that is doing more with less allows you to build doing-more-with-less into your professional mindset. And wiring yourself to think this way makes you a better leader. Here’s why:
When you’re on a small team, you get to wear a lot of hats. Whether this is exhausting or invigorating depends on your outlook. The required diversification for your skill set, however, is likely to be extremely beneficial in the long-run. In organizations with limited funds, it’s not unlikely to have a marketer who writes grants and has experience in program delivery. This person, regardless of formal title, is a marketer, fundraiser, and program coordinator in one. In this single position, the employee gets a chance to experience nonprofit management and exert leadership in several different roles. This person sees more than just one corner of the office, and developing and exercising these multiple skill sets- though famously contributing to nonprofit burnout- may provide a greater long-term advantage to nonprofit employees than the short-term disadvantage.
When the organization has zilch, everyone gets to bring their individual strengths to the table and you get to pick your area in which to shine. This makes shining much easier. Love shooting footage on your flip camera? Go make some videos for your organization (I pieced together these ones). When I worked at Pacific Science Center in Seattle, we saved thousands of dollars on our large-scale public events by summoning talent of internal staff members who were talented face-painters, astronomers, magicians, food composters, marine experts, or scholars on the physics of bubbles– and they were as excited to show off their talents as we were thrilled to show them off.
Flexibility and agility are often built-in to the culture by necessity, which facilitates constant ambushes of creative thinking and innovative ideas– and creative thinking is thought to be the most important leadership characteristic of the next five years. In order to do more with less, you need to come up with ideas of how to do more with less. One of the coolest parts of my work at a small nonprofit is sitting down with the CEO and hashing out ideas. Things come up when you work for a small organization that cannot be foreseen: graduate students ask to write a PR plan for you for class, employees stumble upon great new grants that are due next week, community partnerships develop and new events and opportunities arise. When your organization is this flexible, there’s room to be creative, and opportunity is always at your fingertips.
Resourcefulness is a high-demand attribute in both the nonprofit and for-profit world. Though the constant growth and energy often required to work in nonprofits with limited funds may lead to infamous nonprofit burnout, the benefits of this kind of work far outweigh the negatives. The lessons you learn working for an organization that is consistently doing more with less have the potential to pay off over and over again as you continue to lead organizations in the future.
This post is created in conjunction with other members of the Nonprofit Millennial Bloggers Alliance. Our posts this week (all with “Zilch” in the title), explore perspectives on how nonprofits can do more with less. Check out other members’ posts and get in on twitter conversations regarding these posts by using the hashtag #NMBA.