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I've worked with various non-profit and volunteer organizations for years. I've also worked in the corporate world for years, in both large and small companies, as a permanent employee and as a temporary and contract worker. One of the things I do best is get a good, solid understanding for an organization's culture and structure, it's "zen", if you will. I was one of the first to start using the term "drain circler" in my professional parlance.

I am not an "efficiency expert", or other corporate analyst. People want expensive MBA's for that, so they can charge you more for often not really understanding your organization. Sadly, many of these so-called experts do not "get" the nature of a company, and more often than not leave the situation as bad or worse than they found it - and this is in the for-profit, product producing corporate world alone.

The non-profit world is different. While it has all of the fiduciary demands of the corporate world, except for shareholders demanding a profit and having to pay people to work for it, it has the added burdens of A) needing to retain talent with means other than money, and B) needing to raise funds by other than simple product sales.

Most non-profits struggle with one or both of these. If they are successful in fundraising, they often turn off volunteers with constant pitches for money and/or selling. If they have loyal volunteers, they often have difficulty raising money, because personal fiefs and empire building get in the way.

There are "turn around experts" for both corporate and non-profit organizations. They are not the same. A corporate efficiency expert is out of his or her depth in a volunteer environment as they try to make the organization "more efficient" and "motivate employees". A non-profit expert is more oriented toward motivation and fundraising than product delivery and efficiency, therefore flounders trying to improve a regular corporate environment. A few rare people can do both. I've never met one.

The first thing you learn leading volunteers is that you must work with what people will do, not with what you think they should do. The distinction is subtle, but important. In the corporate world, the threat is always "Do as I say or I'll fire you". In the volunteer world, that type of attitude just ends up with entire swathes of your organization taking a hike in advance of the axe man.

A classic example is "You will cease saying 'XXXXXXX'" from a corporate officer, where "XXXXXXX" is a personal opinion. In the corporate world, that has the threat of firing behind it, offensive though it may be. Even then, it may not be in their purview if "XXXXXXX" has nothing to do with the corporation or its business. In the volunteer world, it is nothing more than an arrogant overstepping of boundaries, a puerile attempt at a power play, and is laughable at best.

Non-profit experts, IIRC, focus on sustainable fundraising, volunteer retention, officer training and long term strategic planning.

Corporate experts, IIRC, focus on increasing efficiency, improving performance, streamlining production, culling deadweight, enhancing shareholder book value and dissent eliminationmorale improvement.

The two are very different skillsets, and do not apply very well to each other.

I have spoken with many survivors of your average corporate efficiency, "turn around" or "restructuring" experts. Their experiences, by and large, have not been pleasant, even if their company had been in trouble, even if they were among the lucky few who kept their jobs. The microscope was invariable turned up highest on the lowest level employees, while members of upper management who were at the heart of the problems were given a free pass. Some places, they come in, talk to the managers about their employees, and then management starts issuing layoff notices. The managers mostly all stay.

This kind of thing would annihilate a non-profit or volunteer organization. Even coming in with the simple goal of trying to streamline operations without truly understanding how volunteers work is a recipe for disaster, and would leave the volunteers feeling like they had been screwed over.

If you are in a volunteer organization and someone tries corporate restructuring on it, stand back and watch the fireworks. It will get interesting, but ugly. It won't, however, fix the organization. You need a non-profit expert for that - if the organization even survives the corporate wizard.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
May. 1st, 2010 09:55 am (UTC)
Excellent article, Ravan. I think I will refer a couple of our VFD board members to it. Then they might understand why some things don't work on the board side of the wall that do work on the operations i.e. Firefighter/first responder side. Aye, There's the rub is my first reaction. Can you sell articles like this to one of the corporate or volunteer house-organs or rags? It's a thought! Love ya--- Mom
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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