Be Tomorrow's Nonprofit Leader By Being Part of a Dream Team Today

November 5, 2018
5 minutes
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The dream team, baby! Surely, you’ve heard of em’. That superstar team collaborating seamlessly with few miscommunications, executing flawlessly against their goals, and coming up with the most innovative, why-didn’t-we-think-of-that ideas. Yes, the dream team. We’ve all heard of them but do they really exist? We believe so. 

First, let’s consider the opposite. When teams are operating out of whack, whether due to lack of clear direction, waning motivation, or surmounting problems with seemingly no solutions, it can feel disheartening, like your organization’s mission is out of reach. Meanwhile, Susan’s crying in the bathroom, Danny’s on a three-hour lunch, and Maria isn’t responding to your emails again. Everyone is fried and depleted of collaborative energy. While this understandably happens within teams and organizations from time to time, you don’t need to stay stuck here. 

Fortunately, there are a few little-known techniques to inspire the dream team and accomplish your nonprofit’s goals. We’re borrowing the same proven strategies BODs and Executives use and applying those same strategies on the ground level. Let’s take a peek: 

(Pssst, before we get started, note this article is written for non-director-level nonprofiteers. Looking for director-level resources for building a kickass board of directors? Check out our webinar!)

Communicate clear expectations & cultivate enthusiasm

Words are powerful tools. Harness communication to work in your team's favor. 

It's proven science: your team can’t achieve much if they don’t know what exactly they’re responsible and accountable for accomplishing. From the get-go, it’s important to set clear roles and responsibilities. It's true even at the highest levels: members of your Board of Directors are held responsible for achieving specific goals. If you’re in a managerial position, set aside time to meet with team members and discover what engages them, what makes them tick, what makes them excited to be a part of your organization. Utilize this information to craft their specific roles and responsibilities. If you’re a team member, take time to envision results that will leave you fulfilled and inspired to get up every morning in pursuit of those goals. 

Once roles and responsibilities have been set for the year, schedule quarterly or monthly check-ins to track against progress. At the end of the year, have each team member conduct a self-assessment in addition to a one-on-one review with their direct supervisor. We took this best practice directly from the top: Former March of Dimes ED and nonprofit consultant Erin Chidsey stresses to executives and board members the importance of self-assessments over and over again. Instead of ambiguously looking back at the year thinking, "Uhhhh, did I do a good job? Shoot, I can’t even remember what I worked on last week, let alone last quarter", you’ll have clear benchmarks you can use to measure progress. 

Seeing is believing: that's precisely why people love before and after pictures. When it's in front of your face, your accomplishments seem a lot more exciting; knowing where all the blood, sweat, and tears went is exquisitely gratifying.

Run staff meetings like board meetings

No one likes meetings. No one. They feel like a waste of time, often don't address everything you've got going on, and serve only to remind you of all the things you could be doing. 

While you can't change everyone's mind about meetings, you can make it worth their while to show up and engage. Use the advice laid out for Executive Directors and Board Chairs when they hold meetings: 

  1. Set your staff up for success. Create an agenda ahead of time that you know you can get through. Better to have two short meetings and leave with decisions made than have a longer meeting where key players have to leave, or the meeting focus goes off the rails.
  2. Speaking of going off the rails, if it's your job to run the meeting, handle that ish! Speak up when Jake rambles on, have people hold questions until the right time, and circle conversations back to the topic at hand. You can do it, and everyone will thank you.
  3. If you want engagement, we've got a slightly controversial suggestion: confiscate phones as you start the meeting. Whoaaaa. Yep, this one might be hard. But maybe try it during a shorter meeting. Imagine how motivated your staff will be to plow through the meeting agenda so they can get their phones back!

Cull your volunteer roster

Firing volunteers is a pretty loaded subject that a lot of people like to weigh in on, but ultimately, you know what they say: Any team is only as strong as its weakest link. The purpose of this article isn't to tell you when to fire a volunteer, but to encourage you to keep your staff in mind as you interact with all types of personnel. And if your gut says it's time to make the tough decision, listen up! 

We put together some scripts for firing board members; with just a few tweaks, you can use these to have these hard conversations with volunteers as well.

Neutralize nonprofit turnover

Staff turnover is a huge problem within nonprofits, but you can put some securities in place to give your team the chance to set down roots and grow. 

  1. Always be recruiting. This is a strategy that we suggest for nonprofit boards, but it's true for your team as well. Keep your eyes and ears open for great people to take both staff and volunteer positions.
  2. Cross-train your staff. And even your volunteers, if you can swing it! You should never be in a situation where no one knows how your fundraising platform works or who your event vendors are. Disseminating knowledge throughout the team takes pressure off your unicorn employees and creates a stronger team overall.
  3. Promote team bonding! As relationships grow and deepen among team members, a layer of safety is cultivated, allowing people to speak their minds without fear of rejection or exclusion. Everyone has unique insights to contribute; the more voices speak up, the stronger and more innovative ideas get. And the less turnover you have. Boom.

Taking a little time to implement these techniques makes the difference between the dream team and the disaster team. Practice now so that when you're in charge, you'll have the tools you need to wrangle the cats that are your board.

*This article is written for Managerial and Administrative non-profit staff members. Interested in more resources for Executives and Board of Directors? Check out our webinar and read the Q+A.

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