One of your biggest sources of professional pride is probably also one of its most frustrating parts: You’re doing the work of three people!
Of course, it’s amazing to be able to be faced with such an enormous challenge and be able to accomplish so much. But at the same time, we have to admit that it can also be overwhelming and exhausting — hardly the kind of work environment that produces our highest quality work.
I’m on a mission to make the nonprofit employees' lives better. And one of the most under-utilized means of freeing up time for those working in nonprofits (and thus reducing stress, burnout, etc.) is to understand and use small workflow automations.
An example of an automation you might consider using at your organization is an email drip campaign, which automatically sends a series of onboarding emails to new supporters when they sign up. There are many, many other automation opportunities as well.
Since nonprofit leaders often face a lot of resistance when beginning to integrate automation into their organizations — you might have already faced this — I want to provide you with the five biggest benefits of automation.
This will give you a framework to use as you work to persuade your board and staff of the value, purpose, and potential of automations to improve the overall impact of your work.
So let’s get into them!
1. Automation ensures repeat activities are completed consistently
Despite our best intentions, inevitably important tasks get completed when we’re busy. Manual tasks are susceptible to us completing them in a rushed, inconsistent manner. The consequences of this can be far-reaching, from wrongly reported outcomes to costly errors in donor communications. One of the biggest benefits of automating things that need done over and over is that, by setting them up to work correctly initially, you ensure they’ll be completed in a consistent manner every time.
2. Automation minimizes disruption as result of staff turnover
Staff retention is as much of a challenge in the nonprofit sector as is donor retention. For instance, we know that on average development directors only stay in their positions for 18 months before moving on. You may have felt the sting of this statistic before yourself. By having portions of a staff person’s work automated, you can ensure your organization’s ability to accomplish those tasks successfully even in the face of staff transitions. Rather than walking out the door when a staff person leaves, your organizational knowledge is preserved. One added benefit here is that new staff can be better oriented to the most important job responsibilities because the small, repeatable tasks won’t require their involvement or training.
3. Automation frees up a significant amount of staff time
Obviously, one of the biggest benefits of automation is that it frees up staff time. By its very design, tasks that used to require human involvement no longer do. Even comparatively small automations can free up large amounts of time. When I was working for a healthcare foundation, I ended up automating a process that previously took me about 2 days per month to complete. Over a year, that’s nearly 200 hours of staff time. If you take that time to set up a couple more automations, you’re looking at 500+ hours of time savings for a single staff person. Just think of what else that allows a person to accomplish for your organization and the people you serve.
4. Automation guarantees tasks are completed immediately
Have you ever had a simple task on your to-do list but just couldn’t get to it? Simple automations can ensure certain things are completed immediately regardless of what else is going on in your life at the moment. And whether you’re focused on fundraising or providing services, timeliness is critical for success. Plus, by ensuring necessary tasks are handled as soon as they need to be — automations use something called a trigger to make sure they happen at the right time — many people are also able to be more consistent in other areas because they’re no longer so overwhelmed.
5. Automation allows you to optimize rather than only completing tasks
When our work is manual, meaning that it requires our involvement to complete it, our primary goal is to complete the task. By ensuring certain tasks are completed automatically, automations allow staff to focus not only on completing work but on figuring out how to work more effectively. In order to raise more money and actually scale social impact, our staff need the time and mental space to approach their work in new ways, to try new approaches, to improve our organizations. By freeing them up from tedious tasks through small automations, you can use your staff to their fullest potential and realize the enormous benefits from doing so.
Finding Time to Make a Difference
Let’s be real: most of the things nonprofits do can’t be automated. In fact, I’d argue many of the most important parts — the connections, the community presence — derive their value specifically from being so hands-on and personal.
And this is a beautiful thing!
The point of automations is simply to give you and your staff more time back so that you can do the most valuable parts of your work. Too many staff get frustrated and burnt out specifically because tedious parts of their work detract from how they really want to be engaging with communities.
In that sense, automations aren’t a saving grace — they’re breathing room so you can stay focused on what’s most important: making a difference.
The preceding is a guest post by Kyle Crawford, Founder/CEO of Fundraising Genius, an innovative fundraising course teaching a unique set of scalable fundraising techniques. Kyle is also the founder of the global innovation community, Dwilly, where he's curated 3,000+ social innovation concepts from roboticists, entrepreneurs, social workers, and designers around the world. To reach Kyle via email: firstname.lastname@example.org