Sanity-Saving Systems to Streamline Nonprofit Operations

October 3, 2019
7 minutes
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You’ve got a million and one things on your plate, nonprofit friend, and you can be honest with us—sometimes it’s a little overwhelming, isn't it? There's a ton of moving parts and pieces that keep nonprofit operations running smoothly every day. From finances to information systems to planning and human resources, a lot goes into making a nonprofit work! And whether you’re a team of one or managing a team of many, sometimes you just need a little help ensuring that everything gets done—some sanity-saving systems if you will.

That’s right, sanity-saving systems can make your nonprofit life so much easier by streamlining repeatable processes for tasks. Plus, when you have an overview of the processes, you can find places to make them more efficient and add in tech tools to make the tasks even easier. We know you could use a little more time in your day so we’re here with some ideas for systems that will simplify your nonprofit life.

Hold up for a sec. What’s a system?

We’re glad you asked. A system is a documented step-by-step process for completing a task. Ideally, this will be a task that you do regularly, be it daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly. The idea behind having a documented process in place is that it can 1) save you time, and 2) you can potentially delegate the process to someone else who will (ideally) get the same outcomes as you.

If you’re more of a left-brain thinker, you're probably loving the sound of this. Analytic thinking and order? Yes, please! If you’re more of a right-brain thinker, don’t leave us just yet. We know you’re more imaginative and creative and we pinky promise you can put that to work in systems thinking.

Where to start—figure out what systems you need

One of the best ways to figure out what systems you need at your nonprofit is to do a brainstorm. Spend 10 or 15 minutes writing out a list of tasks you do on the reg. If you have trouble coming up with that list, pull out your calendar, go through meeting notes, or your email to refresh your memory.

Here are a few common tasks that nonprofits can streamline and improve through systems:

There are so many aspects of nonprofit work that can benefit from systems and this isn’t an exhaustive list. There are also more minute tasks like checking email or returning phone calls. And yes, these things can benefit from systems, too!

Building your sanity-saving systems

Once you identify what tasks might benefit from systems, it’s time to start building out your system. We’re going to give you a three-step process to do just that. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work!

Step 1: Write out the steps from start to finish

This is probably the most time-intensive part of building a system. You’ve got to document what you do to complete the task. Some people find this easier to do when they are actually doing the task. You could keep a notepad handy and write down the steps as you do them. And remember, no step is too small or insignificant to be written down. Even if you think it’s a “no brainer,” it needs to be on your list!

Step 2: Review your steps for efficiencies

This is where you can start to see some time added back to your calendar. After you’ve got the steps written out, go back through them and note which steps are taking a particularly long time or even redundant. The point of this exercise is to look at your whole process from a bird’s eye view to see how you can improve it.

For example, let’s say one of your systems is to update donor records with giving data but right now you’re doing this manually as each offline gift comes in (if you've got a donor CRM, all your online gifts will do this automatically!). You could streamline this part of the process to do a daily update of multiple records at once by uploading a CSV file to your donor database. This could be a substantial change to how you’re currently working that will ultimately save you time.

Step 3: Tech FTW

The last part of building out our systems is to see how we can leverage technology to make it even more efficient. The question to ask yourself is this—is there a technology or tool that can replace me having to do a certain step or several steps in the system? Sometimes this can be a hard question to answer because you may not know about every tech option out there. A good place to start is with automation.

Automation can support many aspects of nonprofit operations, especially fundraising. But there are a lot of other uses for automation beyond fundraising. Let’s take volunteer orientation for example. Once a volunteer application is approved, you could set up your email marketing platform to send a “next steps” email to your volunteer to sign up for an orientation meeting using an online scheduling tool. And if they don’t sign up within a certain time frame (say 7 to 14 days), your platform can send them a reminder. That’s two fewer emails you have to worry about sending.

Setting up efficient systems to support your nonprofit work can streamline your work and free up more of your time. While there's some initial time investment in systems set up, it’s well worth the effort. Being organized and efficient can be a huge game-changer. We want to see you succeed and with fewer headaches along the way. Get your systems in order and get ready for some positive changes.

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