A Nonprofit Approach To Team Building

I like to talk a lot about the theory that our approach to leading nonprofits should match the entrepreneurial focus in the for-profit world. Being an entrepreneur means adopting a mindset founded on certain principles, such as being nimble, taking risks, cultivating ideas from every corner of your company and external advisors and more than anything else, orienting your operation for growth.

Entrepreneurial Staffing For Nonprofits

So what’s the implication of applying an entrepreneur’s mindset to nonprofit leadership with regard to staffing? First, it means breaking free of old frameworks around hiring lots of specialists and not paying them anything. There’s an old stereotype of nonprofit work as the place where smart people go to kill their income potential. While that’s been true for many nonprofits, we’re thankfully shaking free of that.

Now, we’re attracting great people who can contribute to the organization on multiple fronts. For example, our marketing director at Dwell with Dignity also runs the Thrift Store that sustains our revenue. One of our fundraising leaders doubles as an interior designer who plays a key role in the home and community space makeovers that comprise the bulk of our work.

Staffing For Better Flexibility And Compensation

We are growing our business, all while staying lean, because we are staffing to a model of highly productive, multi-talented professionals. Because they are so adept at switching hats to different business needs, including acting as a de facto executive committee that runs day-to-day operations, our compensation model outstrips many of our peer organizations. While nonprofits should always be good stewards of their money, and I certainly abhor the notion of grossly overpaid executives. The fact is that when we staff competitively, it’s a more effective stewardship of our donations and time, two of our most precious and valuable resources.

These focus areas of versatility, flexibility and productivity enable us to accomplish something that many nonprofits can’t begin to wrap their heads around: running at the same speed at which we see opportunities present themselves in the marketplace.

As we have taken Dwell with Dignity through the most recent cohort of the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas Social Innovation Accelerator, we’ve realized many positive returns and palpable changes to our business model. Perhaps the most powerful muscle we’ve trained during the last year in the accelerator is our ability, as a team, to see challenges in our community, ideate efficiently and implement effective solutions at speed.

Our small team — currently at six full-timers — can effectively marshal dozens of volunteers, design and install multiple rooms of furniture and décor and execute quick-fire makeovers (like the ones you’ve seen on television) every couple of weeks, whether it be family homes, nonprofits, even community centers. And we do this all while building upon our next-stage growth ideas without sacrificing the production quality that has made our work famous where we live.

Don’t Go It Alone

A final note about building your nonprofit into a lean, mean, entrepreneurial machine: It’s important to understand that we don’t even try to do this alone. Just as with any startup in technology, healthcare or other growth industry or market, we leverage the power of a constellation of advisors and partners, whether it’s retail experts, interior design leaders, foundation executives, intellectual property attorneys or communications professionals.

Every lean team needs a force multiplier, and perhaps the greatest asset we have, just like those for-profit, growth-stage startups, is our board of directors. When you surround yourself with a diverse advisor base, people who are generous with their time and committed to connecting us with their networks, you feel like you have an army behind you. And it’s true.

Final Thoughts

The new approach to team building in nonprofits is truly an “out with the old, in with the new” shift in thinking. Our organization, and many others like it, are proof that good business principles and especially an entrepreneur’s growth-oriented ethos are foundational to nonprofit success.

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