How to Bridge Skill Gaps in Nonprofits

Training to Bridge Skill Gaps in Non-profits
Written by - 25 Sep 2018 Category: Non-profit Challenges

For non-profits to efficiently deliver on their chosen mission, everyone in the organisation - from first-rung board members to last-rung staff members - must be in a position to leverage the potential of new technologies  and ideas.

For non-profits to efficiently deliver on their chosen mission, everyone in the organisation - from first-rung board members to last-rung staff members - must be in a position to leverage the potential of new technologies  and ideas. However, the Stanford Survey on Leadership and Management in the Non-profit Sector reveals crucial skill gaps that exist in the sector. Organisation of work and talent management constitute the major elements of this lacuna. This post dives into a broad category of skills inadequacies that majority of non-profits face and offers remedial measures.

Three Common Skill Gap Areas

1. Formal Education

In today's age, information is freely available. Professionals with specific skills in demand can often find lucrative opportunities, even without a college degree. But this does not undermine the importance of formal education. This is especially true for clerical staff who can do wonders with a more organised mindset developed through rigorous academic coursework.

To that effect, non-profits must encourage their staff to continue learning. Platforms such as Coursera make available high-quality instruction material from leading universities around the globe. These courses are often free; some paid courses can also be considered if one is interested in earning a degree or a certificate at the end of a qualifying exam. A good news for the non-profit sector is that Coursera has a separate section - called Coursera for Governments and Organizations - which caters to the specific needs of the social sector.


2. Technology and Data Skills

Technology and data skills are becoming more central to any organisation than ever before. This necessitates some level of technology familiarity in the non-profit staff. This is not as easy as it seems when we consider the fact that even technology professionals are striving hard to keep pace with the rapidly changing technical landscape. To expect non-profit staff to obtain absolute mastery of technical skills is neither practical, nor necessary. A balance point can be easily obtained with the help of basic training in commonly used technologies and tools.

To get going, operational understanding of the following utility tools will ensure that a non-profit is self-reliant in day-to-day operations and technical troubleshooting.

For Documents and Data

Google Drive/DropBox for centralised data storage

Google Sheets for spreadsheets

Google Docs for documents

Tableau/PowerBI for data analysis

For Collaboration

Slack for quick team chatting and collaboration

Trello for task management

Asana for team and project management for video conferencing

For Website and Communication

Wordpress for website content management

Google Analytics for website traffic analytics

MailChimp for email marketing

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn for social media engagement

For Staff Management

CiviHR for core HR functionalities - staff profiles, leaves and absences, tasks management, reports and dashboard etc

Quickbooks for Accounting

All the above tools are user-friendly and learning them should not be a challenge for any individual with basic computer skills. Integrating these tools into your daily work practices is where the trick lies.


3. Managerial Skills

Non-profits often fail to invest in crucial leadership development. In the recent Non-profit Leadership Report, only 20% non-profits claimed to be confident in their leadership. 70% of non-profit leaders planned to leave their jobs in the next 5 years. It is evident that there is an urgent need to fix these leadership gaps.

The core issue is not so much of leaders' ability, but rather the lack of planned development efforts. Non-profit leaders need to set clear, objective goals - in terms of the number of lives touched, turnover, costs, or any other parameters that are important to their mission. These goals then need to be drilled down to specific skill gaps that may prevent these goals from materialising. If "reaching a donor base of 1000 donors by the year-end" is a goal, non-profit executives must assess their skills with respect to marketing their donor programmes to the masses. At the leadership level, it would require strategic networking, public relations, and public speaking skills. The leaders must work on any identified gaps in this direction. Also, for leadership development to be a long-term success, current top-rung leaders must identify and nurture in-house leadership talent.

To conclude, building a skill-development programme must be a high-priority action item for any non-profit that lacks such an initiative. There are different ways in which one can proceed, but focussing on skills that directly facilitate the core mission or resolve immediate stumbling blocks must be the first step towards progress.

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This post is the next in the series of addressing specific challenges non-profits face, and builds on top of earlier posts on acquiring the right talent, addressing volunteer management challenges, and effectively managing a remote workforce.

How to Effectively Manage A Remote Workforce

Working from home
Written by - 18 Sep 2018 Category: Non-profit Challenges

Gone are the days when working from home was a novelty. In the age of the internet, most organisations have recognised the benefits of remote working arrangements.

Gone are the days when working from home was a novelty. In the age of the internet, most organisations have recognised the benefits of remote working arrangements. Work from home can increase productivity, lower office expenses, and even enhance employee retention, among other things. However, this does not mean that remote working is always welcome. There are everyday challenges that make many organisations stay away from having a remote working team. In this article, we will look at some of these difficulties and discuss ways in which non-profits can overcome them.

There are three basic challenges in effectively managing remote work. The best way to ensure smoothly-running remote work is to think about them while initiating a remote work arrangement. But how? Let's dive into how non-profits can address these challenges while adopting remote work as a part of their culture.

Measuring Work Done

The first question that really worries a manager is: how do I know my work is getting done if I do not see someone in the office? It is not an outrageous concern. After all, how does a manager know if all the emails that were to be sent out to volunteers were indeed sent? Did the meeting between Tom and Alice conclude on the recruitment roadmap?

Answers to these questions are easy to get when the work is quantifiable i.e. measured against some number that is verifiable. If the task was to send emails to volunteers, a response such as "115 emails were sent and can be seen in the Sent Items folder" is irrefutable. The manager has no further worries. One has to take more caution in subjective matters though. While "Tom and Alice's meeting proposed a recruitment roadmap which is presented in this document" may sound like a task completed, it is actually the quality and completeness of the proposed roadmap that will determine whether the task was completed in spirit.

Objective, traceable, independent work items are best suited for remote work. If you can clearly describe a job as "Producing X amount of something", it can be effectively managed remotely. For other jobs, pure working from home may not be the best arrangement.


Collaborating With Remote Workers

The above-mentioned meeting between Tom and Alice is a bad candidate for remote work because of another reason - collaboration. IBM and Yahoo, one time advocates of remote work, have begun rolling back their policies because not all type of collaboration is done well over the internet. It may seem counter-intuitive that electronic communication is instantaneous, and yet lacking in collaboration. The answer here lies in the ‘power of presence’. The subtleties of human presence - the body language, the voice tone, the eye contact, the sense of seriousness and even humour - all help in creating an ‘experience’, as opposed to just ‘information’. If a team needs a debate or a brainstorm (i.e. an experience), personal meetings are the best. If a team needs a status report or a presentation demo (i.e. information), video conferencing can work well.

What does this mean to your remote work policy? Basically, judge for yourself what kind of collaboration your tasks need and whether remote team members can contribute well to them. Also think about splitting your task into two segments - one to be done remotely by individuals, and other to be done collaboratively in person. An example of the same can be designing a website - your team can come together and discuss, debate, and agree on a design, which can then be developed remotely by the technical team. The process can be done iteratively until the project is over.


Lack Of Feeling Of Cohesiveness And Trust

Maintaining healthy relations among remote workforces is a challenging task. An obvious answer is to keep everyone engaged and interacting with one another. This can be done via different technology platforms. Encourage team members to chat in Slack channels, ask for team meetings to take place over video-conferencing and not mere phone calls, or have Friday Fun online meetings for everyone to share some fun facts about them that week. The idea is to make everyone see everyone else as a 'person' and not just 'an email ID' or a 'phone number'.

We must note that such meetings are not an instantaneous catalyst in building people-to-people connections. At the onset, the meetings may seem burdensome, with people not knowing what to expect or how to contribute. With time, however, a certain culture will evolve, and one must ensure consistent efforts for the culture to sustain. In fact, such lack of consistency is often considered one of the reasons for IBM's failure to optimise its remote workforce.


The last tip to make all of the above work together is to offer remote work only to those individuals who are suitable for it. If someone lacks self-motivation, or needs someone else to handhold, or just loses focus every now and then, that person will not produce quality work, even if all of the above, and other similar best practices, are in place. So, go only with the right personality type!

Have you tried remote work practices in your organisation? What have been your experiences? We would love to hear from you!

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This post is the next in the series of addressing specific challenges non-profits face, and builds on top of the earlier post on managing volunteers.

How to Address Top 3 Volunteer Management Challenges

Volunteers for non-profits
Written by - 11 Sep 2018 Category: Non-profit Challenges

As non-profits, we all will agree that volunteer management is both a necessity and a challenge. It is difficult to recruit volunteers, assign them tasks appropriate to their skills and interests, and even track their attendance and work.

As non-profits, we all will agree that volunteer management is both a necessity and a challenge. It is difficult to recruit volunteers, assign them tasks appropriate to their skills and interests, and even track their attendance and work. And all this under the perpetual constraints of time and resources! Well, we all agree on this, but when did we take a step back to see what challenges our volunteers face when working with us? Read on to know why this is important and how to address this often-ignored aspect of volunteer management.


Understanding Volunteers’ Outlook

To get to the bottom of the challenges, let's look at things from the perspective of volunteers. Volunteers, as the name suggests, are well-meaning individuals ready to contribute in a non-profit’s efforts. There is often no financial compensation or any other reward. Their time commitment is not comparable to that of full-time employees, and is spread over a wider time frame. This means that volunteers develop a particular outlook towards their work with you, and herein lie the challenges!


Challenge 1: Feeling of Being Undervalued

Volunteers are loosely connected to your work and need to be told what to do. Owing to their low time commitment, you find it challenging to offer them large, more involved pieces of work. This suggests that motivating factors such as decision making and leadership are well out of scope. Under such situations, volunteers often end up doing menial jobs.

To prevent this, an effective solution is to communicate in greater details. When new volunteers show interest, reach out to them immediately. Long response times may discourage them. When volunteers show up, explain the work to them in an organised fashion. A pre-written list of instructions or a small introduction video will both save your efforts, as well as get volunteers up to speed faster. Further, ask them for suggestions and genuinely deliberate over them to see if you can improve your practices in any way. And of course, thank and appreciate them for their work!

All of these will make the volunteers more involved, despite limited time engagement.


Challenge 2: Volunteer Burnout

An aspect closely related to the above challenge is volunteer burnout. It is often seen that the same volunteers that were enthusiastic in the beginning, end up looking dull over time. Opportunities for growth and variety in tasks are seldom possible. Couple that with regular sessions and you have exhausted volunteers, if they still choose to volunteer.

To keep things moving, it is important to space out volunteer sessions. Can you change a weekly engagement to a bi-weekly engagement, by getting more volunteers? Can you rotate volunteers across different work items, to keep them interested? Can you be flexible with your time requirements and schedule? Can you allow volunteers to work from home, for suitable tasks? Can you arrange for a volunteer-exchange program with your/another non-profit in a different city?

Really, you may not need more than one or two of such ideas to keep your volunteers interested and to prevent burnout.


Challenge 3: Lack of Team Working Spirit

Volunteers necessarily work on smaller tasks and thus lack much interaction with regular staff. This creates a feeling of isolation. While this is an intrinsic constraint with any volunteer arrangement, there are ways in which volunteers can be made part of a team - if not with the full-timers, but among themselves.

The idea is to generate a sense of community, and there is no one way of doing it. Create a monthly ideas-exchange forum in which volunteers can share their experience and inspire one another. The interaction doesn't have to be formal - they can share simple, everyday stories and create a human connection. If you have little time, you can at least get started by creating a volunteer-only group on Facebook or WhatsApp, and set the ball rolling.

Just let them share their ideas, attitudes, ethos... do it however you like! Connections among volunteers will go a long way in creating a strong community.


Now that you have some idea of volunteers’ concerns, re-look into your current programmes and see how you can improve them. And of course, keep reading our blog to see more pragmatic ideas on improving your non-profits operations. Until next time, happy volunteer-managing!

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This post is the next in the series of addressing specific challenges non-profits face and builds on top of the earlier post on recruiting the right talent.


About CiviHR

CiviHR is a project to create affordable HR software for non-profit organisations. By developing open source technology the benefits can be shared with non-profits everywhere.


CiviHR is a project to create affordable HR software for non-profit organisations. By developing open source technology the benefits can be shared with non-profits everywhere. 

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