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  • Sharron Batsch

Prescription for an Ailing Charity

There has been a great deal of discussion over the last couple of years about what is ailing charities. The issue has been described as

  • a leadership problem,

  • not enough money to retain qualified staff,

  • a lack of training to maintain skill sets,

  • disorganized resources and

  • increased stress

Many people consider it normal to have people trying to cope in a chaotic work environment and ever-increasing financial goals. The list above seems like it should be ‘select one of the above’, but in most cases, it is ‘all of the above’. The outcome is reflected in staff turnover, a reduction of charitable gifts, higher operating costs, low productivity, and little time for donor relations.

Our perspective brings us to the charity itself and how it, as an organization, it can assuage many of the problems which are undermining staff and reducing their ability to meet its goals.

The position we subscribe to is the need to define a high-performance work environment and address job expectations to eliminate these ubiquitous problems and ensure new hires can achieve success in whatever task they are performing.

To enable any team to work effectively, you first need to prepare their workplace. Once the workplace is ready, job requirements can be addressed that support the expectations of the charity and those which impact inter-related staff members. Only then can you determine if those hired fit the necessary profile to achieve success for themselves professionally and for the charity?

Take a hospital operating room as an example. What does it need to enable a surgeon to perform an operation? Consider the resources to be used, the staffing requirements and their skill level, and an organized set of tools required by the doctor so the operation can go smoothly. What would happen if the room was chaotic with things everywhere, a bit of gauze here, clamps … somewhere, just give me a minute to find them … etc. We suggest this would be very stressful for staff performing the operation and the outcome for the patient could be questionable.

These same issues affect many charities. Before we consider who is hired we need to assess where they will work and what they need to do their job. Are their tools easily accessible or are they found in a plethora of computer folders, maybe on a shared drive, on sticky notes attached to their computer, or in the memory of current and past staff?

The tools and resources used by a charity are not those purchased at a hardware or grocery but rather found in the knowledge and skills built by staff over time. The retention of knowledge and task-related ‘know-how’ used to perform activities can be retained, shared, and enhanced as learning platforms for new hires particularly when these shared assets have been developed by skilled individuals & development officers.

Finally, there is a need for specific job expectations written out which provide performance criteria so that everyone knows what is expected and excuses are not a reason for non-conformance. This includes all levels of staff and management. It allows the charity to determine training needs and how they can be accomplished, in-house or out.

Leadership is open to discussion as it can take many forms. Our position is that in a well-defined working environment, good leaders thrive along with all staff and most particularly, the charity. It prevents the decimation of good systems and it ensures continuity through staff and board change. Without a platform for success defined by the needs of the charity and documented to ensure continuous improvement, charities will continue to struggle and look for band-aid solutions.

In a high-performance environment, everyone’s time becomes more productive and a valuable knowledge base grows. The outcome is a charity meeting its financial and relationship goals. Having time to do the right things culminates in improved salaries for staff, a significant reduction in unwanted stress and far less staff turnover as professional satisfaction grows.

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