Some of the best not-for-profit organizations have few, if any, staff. And while they may not attract (or look for) a lot of attention, they are, without a doubt, some of the most important organizations in the sector.

Generally, these low or no staff organizations have very specific, and sometimes, rather personal missions. That is to say, they have been created by people sharing a common concern or experience, often involving a family member. Over time, the founding members have come to realize that others in their communities share a common experience, and want to participate in their activities, research and programming. This can then expand into fundraising initiatives that serve to sponsor ongoing seminars or opportunities for people to gather in groups, or the communication of educational material that ‘spreads the word’ and informs others about the issue or cause.

At some point, these associations, often run by the original founding members, begin to look for help in ‘running the organization’ or at least taking over some of the work, especially as the burden of these tasks start to take their toll, as the organization grows and matures.

Take your Time, Keep it Real

Smaller organizations, however, generally do not have the budgets required to employ full-time staff, or, are unsure of just how much help they really need.

One way to approach the problem is to do so incrementally. That is, take the time to gain a better understanding of what help you really need, and where that help is needed. After all, your dollars are limited and you want to make sure you invest them, or spend them, wisely. The question then becomes, what do we really need help with?

In my experience, some low or no staff organizations, believe they need help with administration, when they really should be allocating their modest, and precious, funds to help with fundraising or advocacy – two very time-intensive activities that require a level of value-added expertise. Further, the fundraising support may provide the additional monies needed to take the organization to the next level, in keeping with its mission of advocacy and awareness.

It’s your Organization, You get to Decide

But it is not for me, or anyone else, to tell you, or your organizations, what to do. My suggestion is to explore the administrative support systems that may allow you to divest some of the work volunteers are doing, and move to a more contemporary platform, where your members look after their own profiles, communication preferences, and even renew or donate online, and where communications are simplified, if not automated. Chances are, you may discover your volunteers and members enjoy the opportunity to self-manage their profiles and preferences, making their experiences with the organization that much more enjoyable and rewarding.

Once you understand what your administrative needs are, or aren’t, then you can begin to determine where you may wish to allocate resources for professional support, either on a part or full time basis.

A personal perspective

In closing, I am proud to say my suggestions come from my personal experiences, both working with organizations with low or no staff, and, in fact, serving as a sole staff member, for many years, with one organization. I know how personal many causes are, and how rewarding it can be for volunteers to participate, fully, in the growth and development of an organization, and how rewarding it can be to be part of that experience, as a staff person. So, by all means, give it some thought. It’s alright to start slowly, as long as you start. Your concern will always be to do what’s best for the organization, mindful of the mission and mandate your began with, either recently, or all those years ago.

Paul McKay

Paul McKay CAE

Paul McKay CAE, is Senior Consultant with McKay Associates, specializing in advocacy, marketing and development for not-for-profit organizations and causes. Get in touch with Paul via LinkedIn: