In 2007 the New Yorker magazine ran an article called “The Checklist” written by Atul Gawande. The article was about the importance of having checklists for emergency services and how these checklists have saved people’s lives over and over. I remembered that article, which I read over a decade ago now, when I was starting to write this article because it carried a real one-two punch. The tagline for the article said: “If something so simple can transform intensive care, what else can it do?”
Obviously a set of pre-determined and tested protocols make checklists like this so effective.
So why am I so fired up about checklists in relationship to managing nonprofits? Simply put, checklists can:
- help considerably in achieving your objectives;
- provide a rational approach to getting something done;
- act as a memory jogging tool, assuring nothing is forgotten; and
- keep the project on task.
And I bet you can think of several more good reasons why checklists can be of great assistance to the work you do.
You will find that checklists work very well for linear kinds of information delivery. You can think of lists as tools for describing sequential actions.
Nonprofit management and checklists go hand in hand. And because of the Net, there are tons of very good lists, easily accessible, you can use. Of course, just like all information you get off the Net, you’ll want to make sure the checklists you are using are tested and provide true guidance.
My friend Pat Bohse, who runs Bohse & Associates based in New Jersey, has a set of very useful checklists you can access covering a broad set of topics including:
Volunteer Management: One of these checklists enumerates everything that should be included in a Volunteer Orientation Kit.
Board of Directors: These checklists spotlight the board’s basic responsibilities, including one in particular that distinguishes Administration vs. Board.
And, of course, my favorites are the Grant Writing checklists. I particularly like her simple Essential Documents list. How handy it is to be able to share this list with an organization just starting to pursue grant awards.
The key to using checklists (such as this one on GuideStar) is to figure out what you need, then find the checklist that fits those needs. But a great place to start is with Pat’s set of checklists, as these are all tried-and-true lists.
My second suggestion is to tap into the numerous resources we list on the GrantStation website via the Pathfinder. A free, public resource, the Pathfinder is designed to help you develop your career path as a grants professional. Our library provides profiles on top-quality resources in the areas of grant research, writing, and management as well as strategic planning. There are numerous “how to” articles, blogs, upcoming webinars, and more in this collection of resources. One of my favorite tools mentioned on Pathfinder—Good Evaluation Questions: A checklist to help focus your evaluation—is quite helpful when developing the evaluation component of a grant request.
As you adopt these checklists you will undoubtedly add new items, customizing each list so it meets your organization’s needs. This customization is what will make these checklists valuable to your organization.
Moving Beyond the Checklist
Checklists are tremendously valuable and can help you organize your nonprofit, but they are not step-by-step guides on how to do something. Again, finding these guides, and incorporating them into your managerial process, can be a tremendous time saver.
Identifying what you need, and then finding legitimate and easy-to-follow tutorials or workbooks that will guide you through a particular process is essential. Again, I suggest you use the Pathfinder when you can, as we screen all of our recommendations to make sure they are time-tested approaches. Let me give you a few examples of workbooks that are truly time savers.
Innovation Network has a Logic Model Workbook that I recommend to many folks. It is easy to follow, with lots of visuals to help us understand the purpose of a logic model, how it plays into the evaluation component of your grant request, and a step-by-step guide on how to build such a model.
I am also publishing my first eBook, Bold Is Gold: A Funding Research Primer, that guides you through the steps of how to identify the most appropriate grantmakers for your programs and projects. The second chapter of this primer goes into some detail about a worksheet you can use to help guide your research. This worksheet mirrors the gist of the primer, which is to identify a process and then use that process consistently. (Sounds like a checklist, eh?)
I think these how to workbooks, primers, etc. are very helpful. Your job is to ferret out those resources that will work best for you and incorporate them into managing your nonprofit organization. The knowledge is out there, we just have to find it and then actually use it!
We don’t all work in emergency services—but our organizations provide food, shelter, education, and more, every day, making a life-altering difference to so many people, animals, and Mother Earth. Let this simple tool—the checklist—help you fulfill your mission.
The preceding is a guest post by Cynthia Adams, CEO of GrantStation, a premiere online funding resource for organizations seeking grants throughout the world. Providing access to a comprehensive online database of grantmakers, GrantStation helps nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and government agencies make smarter, better-informed grantseeking decisions. GrantStation is dedicated to creating a civil society by assisting the nonprofit sector in its quest to build healthy and effective communities.