I work with many of non-profit organizations, and one thing I cannot help but fret is the lack of proper training and understanding in how to use computers and technology. Since so many non-profit organizations are terribly small, they usually have very tightly limited budgets.
Unfortunately, this causes them to be “penny wise and pound foolish.” Non-profits often buy an expensive computer and an even more expensive software package to manage their fundraising and donor information. Then, to save some cash in the short-run, they partner this technology with technophobes who are barely computer literate. They refuse to invest in training for the personal and professional development of their support staff members, and morale continues to sink to rock bottom.
Efforts to improve technologically are often hampered by the salaries non-profits are able to offer. Salaries are kept low, with no hope of advancement, so that once the person with limited knowledge of the system finally learns a little something about the computer and software, they quickly leave for a better paying job with more desirable working conditions. And the cycle begins again, with a search focusing myopically on costs alone. Who can we get to replace so-and-so and what is the least we can offer to get someone?
Recently, a member of one of our clients’ support staff shared an exasperating story with me. It seems that a big event was coming up and she was cooperating with secretaries from several different departments to make the arrangements and compile the guest list. To her horror, and disbelief, the other women just handed her a freshly typed list of names, expecting her to “get the envelopes ready.” She promptly called them back and asked if they would please merge those names and addresses onto labels to be affixed to the envelopes.
Their reply was dumbfounding—after years as secretaries, and highly paid administrative assistants, these women did not know how to merge two files for mailings, invitations, addresses labels, etc. I was really surprised that they would not have been found lacking by the personnel office, or have been discovered during a “trial by fire,” but they seem to have “gotten by” typing and retyping the same information over and over again. They must have wasted thousands of hours in their combined careers. I call that a tragedy.
If a person does not have a vision of what is possible, they can never achieve much more than what is basic and available to everyone who shows up. On the other hand, if you invest in your employees and push them to learn and grow to the limits of their ability, they will surprise even themselves with how much they can get accomplished. As leaders, executive directors of charities need to insist on a well-educated staff and on the continuing investments of training and compensation to ensure that the staff stays in place and improves.
The absolute value of the cost saved by hiring unqualified and undereducated people and refusing to spend money to have them in quality educational programs is dwarfed by the amount of money lost to poor fundraising and management practices. Remember, these are the people you will be interfacing with your best volunteers and your most generous donors. They are the ones who produce your thank-you notes, proofread your material and address the envelopes; all areas where you are vulnerable to blunder.
Your organization depends upon your ability to hire talented and well-educated people to carry your standard. You must find a way to pay them as much as you can and to keep them well informed about the mission and goals of the institution and your progress towards those goals. Finally, you must encourage them to work constantly to upgrade their fundraising knowledge and practical skills.
This is one of the battles that is worth fighting with your board. If they will not bend on this issue, it might be a good time to reconsider your own commitment to leading an organization where the board is not going to give you, and the people you have chosen to assist you, the training and support you need. If you insist upon getting the assets you need to do the job right, and you accept responsibility to lead the effort, then you will earn the respect of the board, and ultimately their allegiance.
I have seen this work in dozens of different situations, each with its own set of unique circumstances. Try it! It will work for you too! Good luck and remember, make sure to have some fun while you are at it.
David G. Phillips is President and CEO of Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS). CDS is among the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada. If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.