To best serve your nonprofit and its constituents, you must practice the art of delegation and even perfectionists can learn to love delegation. Some not-for-profit executives can be perfectionists — they often know exactly how they want something done and believe they’re the only ones capable of doing it right. Unfortunately, this attitude can alienate staffers and make it difficult to mentor successors and build effective teams. Then there’s the problem of time: There are only so many hours in the work day.
What to Hand Off
It’s important for executives to devote their time to the projects that are the most valuable to their organization and that can best benefit from their talents. For example, public speaking engagements and meetings with major donors are probably best left to you and other upper-level executives. On the other hand, tasks that frequently reoccur, such as sending membership renewal notices, and jobs that require a specific skill in which you have minimal or no expertise, such as reconciling bank accounts, are probably delegation targets.
Before you delegate a task to an employee, consider the person’s main job responsibilities and experience and how those correlate with the project. At the same time, keep in mind that employees may welcome opportunities to test their wings in a new area or take on greater responsibility. Before assigning new tasks, check staffers’ schedules to confirm that they actually have time to do the job well.
How to be Flexible
When handing off a task, be clear about goals, expectations, deadlines and details. Explain why you chose the individual and what the project means to the organization as a whole. Also let employees know if they have any latitude to bring their own methods and processes to the task. You may be tempted to micromanage a delegated task, but try to give staffers flexibility. After all, a fresh pair of eyes might see new and better ways to accomplish jobs.
On the other hand, delegation doesn’t mean dumping a project on someone and then washing your hands of it. Ultimately, you’re responsible for the task’s completion, even if you assign it to someone else. So stay involved by monitoring the employee’s progress and providing coaching and constructive feedback as necessary.
Getting it Right
How do you know if you’re delegating correctly? Ideally, you should have time to focus on mission critical tasks that leverage your specific talents, and your staffers should be provided with growth and learning opportunities. If you’re new to delegating, it may take some time to get used to identifying projects to delegate and the staffers best capable of handling them. But once you get the hang of it you will start to love delegation and can make the job of managing a nonprofit a little easier and much more fulfilling. Contact a member of Olsen Thielen’s not-for-profit team for more ideas.