Too Much and Not Enough: Thinking Differently About Your Workload

Notoriously lean, nonprofits and their executive directors have too little time and too much work. Although there are common ways to deal with this—increase the workload among the staff or manage only the most urgent—consider strategically engaging a business advisor instead.

A business advisor is someone who is accomplished in their career that can advise nonprofit professionals to strengthen the organization’s leadership development, financial position, operations, marketing strategies and strategic planning (among others). The benefit to the business advisor is meaningful engagement with the organization, while the nonprofit benefits from receiving high-quality pro bono guidance from someone who is committed to the organization’s mission.

But how does a nonprofit executive director connect to a business advisor? As with any working relationship, clear expectations and communication are key. Here are the 5 tangible steps to connecting with a business advisor

1. Think and plan.

At least once per year hold an offsite strategic planning day (or days if able) to contemplate the high-level direction of the organization in terms of mission, goals, and objectives.

2. Set Priorities.

Once you have completed this first step, sort the objectives into a prioritization matrix. If all of the objectives appear in the “Do Now” category, go back through with a critical eye and reassess. Consider what the highest importance and most urgent things truly are.

3. Assign Projects.

Only after defining what you want to do should you consider who will do it. In this third step, leaders will commonly develop plans around the skills and talents of those that are currently staffed, rather than thinking about the best interests of the organization then resourcing accordingly. The underlying fear in developing plans around existing skills and talents is the mindset that the organization cannot hire, and so must “work with what it has.” Instead, by adopting an organization-first approach, you will notice the need for specific skill sets emerges. These skill sets can be gained both through staff professional development and the recruitment of highly skilled volunteers, or business advisors.

It’s worth noting that at this point many leaders start to think, who has time for this? Why do I need to do all of this planning -- shouldn’t I just get things done?

The problem is if you begin working with a business advisor and they do not feel that their work is significant or their time is valued, their interest will diminish. The saying, “You only have one chance to make a good impression” is true here.

4. Share Specific Needs.

Being specific in a collaborative manner, then, is vital to a lasting, fruitful relationship with your business advisor. Talk through your needs with them, and then have a conversation around time frame and details. In this, make sure the discussion and anticipated output are specific, clear, time-bound, and attainable. Ask questions like

  • Have you seen this problem addressed before, and can we apply those learnings?
  • Do you see any potential roadblocks?
  • Do you think this is a realistic ask and timeline?
  • What will you need from me moving forward?
  • Can I put you in touch with anybody that could be of help (may include staff, volunteers, board members)?
  • Is there anything I haven’t mentioned that you have questions about?

5. Clearly Detail How the Business Advisor Adds Value.

The fifth step requires a softer touch. While the first four steps consider the concrete work details, this final piece is for you to consider the human side of your Business Advisor. Their purpose in working with your organization is to serve; they want to be meaningfully involved, improve the lives of others, and advance the mission. To meet their needs, align the right work to spark that joy in them. Pay attention to what gets them excited and develop a working relationship that they want to continue.


Anne York
I am the Program Manager for For the City Ventures. Professionally, I've worked in management consulting, tech, and e-commerce. I earned an MBA from the University of Texas-Austin, and a double major in History and Political Science from Hillsdale College. I live in Austin with my husband and three kids. On the weekends, you can find us doing home improvements or soaking up all the fun that Austin has to offer.


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