The Disadvantage Of Overextending Your Nonprofit
The below is an excerpt from CEO Jeff Russell’s book, “Do What You Do Best.”
Generally in nonprofits, money is more scarce than time. It is always possible to work a little longer or find a volunteer. It is not always possible to
have more money available. So decision makers in nonprofits naturally gravitate towards the resource that they have more of—time—and make
This can lead to the trap of thinking that outsourcing isn’t feasible, because it costs money. Often in small, overworked organizations the idea of paying for an additional line item in the budget is simply impossible. The logic follows that saving an executive director’s time is nice, but she is going to work sixty hours a week anyway. Having a firm help out so that she works fifty hours a week only adds to the budget; it doesn’t save money. This is a very real and valid argument. However, when played out over the long run, this is a death trap. It creates a system that relies on overworked people and relies on their continued relentless dedication to your cause. MIT sociologist, Oliver Hahl, describes the Law of Diminishing Intrinsic Return, which states that eventually people’s dedication dies off over time because they are doing things they don’t enjoy—such as bookkeeping—that take them away from their mission. So while your—probably unstated—strategy is to rely on people’s dedication, you are setting up a system where their dedication will undoubtedly wane over time. This creates burnout and turnover, two expensive issues that nonprofits regularly face. This death spiral can be avoided by allowing people to focus on what they enjoy and do best.
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