By Denique ‘Neeky’ Dennis, Social Impact Strategist
A few weeks ago in a client meeting, the Executive Director of a small community organization told me she was hoping to “build infrastructure, not be infrastructure.” I’m sure that’s on every nonprofit consultant’s top 10 list of favourite things to hear. I couldn’t have said it better myself!
Standard Operating Procedures (one part of the infrastructure) are essentially an instruction manual that highlights how your organization conducts its operations in order to continue serving your clients. These can include anything from donor management to client onboarding to social media marketing.
Building infrastructure or SOPs within an organization is one of the most critical activities for efficiency, sustainability and scaling impact. Here’s why:
The very process of explicitly stating the steps involved in completing a task allows the organization to take a step back and think deeply about what skills and actions are necessary. When we mindlessly and/or reactively complete steps in a task, it is not uncommon for us to devote more time to it than is actually needed. Instead, the creation of SOPs allow you to:
- Proactively plan workflows, prioritize to-dos, predict barriers, and possibly even preemptively consider contingency plans.
- Delegate based on skill sets after seeing the exact steps that need to be completed. Who is the best person in the organization to complete the task?
Sustainability of Services
Oftentimes, the knowledge of how to sustain a department’s operations on a daily basis rests with a few (if not a single) employee. Of course, this is especially exacerbated in the case of nonprofits that only have very few employees/volunteers who carry the bulk of all operations. What happens if these employees are indisposed and unable to serve the organization for a day? For a week? Would someone else be able to effectively assume their duties?
If the mere thought of that is anxiety-inducing, you may need to consider creating SOPs. The clients you serve are dependent on your life-changing services. Creating SOPs that allow for a quick transfer of responsibilities ensures that your clients do not experience disruption in services.
Quality of Care
Well laid out processes are incredibly important when it comes to ensuring a high standard of care or service for your clients. Having a set of activities that all employees within a department agree to adhere to means that a stakeholder knows what to expect when interacting with your organization regardless of the day or employee. Naturally, this is one key way to develop and maintain your reputation. That makes SOPs all the more crucial.
One way to increase the impact your nonprofit provides is by creating new locations and/or adding staff to meet heightened demand for your services. Having SOPs simplifies the replication of processes from the work being done at the original location and presents accountability metrics for service quality at each location.
Get Started Building Your Organization’s SOPs
Now that you understand the importance of building a SOP, please do not think it too daunting! In my current work with another Executive Director to establish Donor Management SOPs, she commented on how the process of creating the SOPs felt like an additional task atop her current efforts in securing sponsorship for an upcoming fundraiser. I had to point out to her that the creation of the SOP is memorializing the exact activities she is currently doing! For example, each time she sends an email, she could save the language, remove donor-specific information and voila! She has a template. Instead of spending a few hours per week sending these emails, she could now delegate this to an assistant to automatically populate and send while she devotes her time to other work.
So, as you go through your day-to-day work, continue identifying ways that you can memorialize your activities. It will certainly be worth the effort in the end!