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Last updated February 29, 2016

I have yet to find an organisation (or business for that matter) that gets everything right, all of the time. And when you’re working with limited resources, sometimes it’s hard to know what things are essential to work on, and what things you can afford to let slide. But regardless of the size of your organisation or what stage of development you’re at, there are 7 mistakes you really don’t want to make.

1. Expect your Manager to go unrewarded because you’re a ‘good cause’.
It’s no secret that most non-profit managers get paid less than they would for similar roles in the ‘for-profit’ world and for the most part, people are happy to accept the lesser wage for a chance to make a genuine difference in their community. However, if you want to keep good staff on-board, they need to be adequately acknowledged and rewarded for their efforts and it’s not always about the money.

Unfortunately I meet too many non-profit managers who receive little, if any support from their board. The scope of their role is often far more than the contracted hours allow, and while they are happy to do whatever it takes in the beginning, lack of recognition eventually leads to resentment and frustration.

If your Manager is working extra unpaid hours, you need to treat them as a volunteer and bestow on them the same level of appreciation and praise. Just as your volunteers receive thank you cards, morning tea shouts and regular recognition, your Manager deserves reward for their volunteer hours as well. Don’t wait for them to resign before giving them the recognition they deserve.

2. Appoint anyone who offers as a trustee.
Being an effective trustee requires specific skills, expertise and attributes. ‘Wanting to help’ is not enough and it’s better to leave a seat empty than get the wrong person involved. Don’t make the mistake of appointing trustees in a state of desperation.

Good governance requires all trustees to have an active interest in the work of your organisation and collectively, they should represent the diversity of the people you serve. All trustees should have a basic understanding of financial management and governance principles, but you also need trustees with specific expertise in finance, legal, human resources, marketing and sector specific issues.

Before you appoint the first person to raise their hand, make sure they are fully aware of what is expected of them and check their skills and expertise against the gaps you have on your board. It’s also a good idea to consider their personal qualities in regards to ‘good team fit’.

3. Scrimp on training.
Too often organisations blame lack of training on lack of budget, and while I completely understand the reasoning, leaving your staff and volunteers to work it out for themselves is usually more expensive in the long run. Don’t make that mistake.

Regardless of the topic, self-teaching takes time and ‘trial and error’ can lead to costly mistakes (especially if you’re a trustee!). Getting support from someone experienced in the field means your team can short-cut to the actions and processes that work, without having to make all the mistakes themselves.

 4. Put all your eggs in one basket.
Every week I meet organisations that are in financial crisis because they have relied largely on grants and contracts to fund their programmes, and over time the funding has become harder and harder to secure. Money that was once accepted as a ‘sure thing’ is suddenly no more, and the organisation has no other income to plug the gaps.

If your organisation wants true financial sustainability, you need to be generating an income from several sources. This might be a combination of personal donations, corporate sponsorship, social enterprise, membership or traditional fundraising activities and events. Establishing these income streams takes time, so you need to work on them before you hit crisis point.

5. Refuse to collaborate.
I’m the first to acknowledge that the term ‘collaboration’ is somewhat of a catch phrase at the moment, but the reality is, collaboration works and if you’re a small organisation, you’ll need to start collaborating if you want to survive.

Collaboration doesn’t necessarily mean amalgamation, and working together doesn’t have to threaten your identity. It is simply about sharing ideas, sharing resources and acknowledging that we are all in this together.

 6. Let lack of knowledge cause you to miss opportunities.
Every week I talk with organisations that are missing great opportunities, simply because they don’t know they exist or they haven’t taken the time to find out how it relates to their organisation. Granted, not everyone can know about everything, but there are some really simple ways to stay up-to-date and in the loop. You just need to make a commitment to do so.

Join a non-profit networking group so you hear about opportunities from others in the sector, ‘like’ Exult on Facebook, and set up a ‘Google Alert’ with words or phrases pertinent to your cause. Subscribe to non-profit newsletters, attend workshops, ask questions and spend at least 30 minutes every week browsing the net. If you want to keep on-top of opportunities, you need to be consciously searching for them. Don’t make the mistake of leading your organisation in a bubble.

 7. Produce messy marketing material.
If you want potential funders, sponsors, donors and supporters to take you seriously, you need to act professionally in everything you do. Don’t use the fact that you’re a ‘small organisation’ or ‘volunteer based’ as an excuse for messy material and lack of professionalism. Like it or not, your marketing material is a window to your organisation – make sure it’s a good one.

I accept that having limited resources can sometimes stop you from doing things exactly as you would like, but it doesn’t mean you can do things half-heartedly and then blame the budget. There are countless free tools available to help you with marketing and communication, and sites like www.fiverr.com give you access to creative experts at a really affordable rate.

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