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Allison Gauss

Why You Need SOPs for Your Nonprofit

Defining your nonprofit’s practices and standards is an important step in managing an effective organization. Standard operating procedures give everyone at your nonprofit the information they need to support your mission. While there’s no need to micromanage every task, it can be extremely helpful to set guidelines for how staff or volunteers should handle particular issues.

Take a look at some of the benefits of establishing standard operating procedures and how they can be applied to different areas of nonprofit work. With a few basic questions to get you started, you can help prepare your organization for ongoing procedures. Nonprofits with clearly defined guidelines can work more efficiently and effectively while minimizing indecision.

Why You Need SOPs

“Standard operating procedures” is jargon for “how we do things around here.” When you establish procedures for certain situations and tasks, you ensure that everyone in your nonprofit is on the same page.

Having accessible operating procedures also cuts down on questions, confusion, and endless email chains. When your staff has access to standard procedures, they can reference them when performing unfamiliar tasks. It’s like having the rules on hand for a board game. In most situations, you already know what to do, but if something out of the ordinary happens, you can reference the rules. You aren’t stuck asking each other “What do we do now?”

Let’s say your organization has an information booth in your city’s bimonthly farmer’s market. Your community outreach specialist usually mans the table to recruit donors and volunteers, but this week she’s ill. With your big fundraising event coming up, you don’t want to miss out on this chance for publicity. Having some guidelines and instructions for how to set up and engage with people at the market empowers another staff member to step up.

While nonprofit professionals have to work together, that doesn’t mean they have all the same knowledge and skills. For example, your marketing department handles most PR inquiries, but what if your programs director is interviewed in a local publication? She will need to know how to talk about the organization and what details she can disclose. Having some guidelines and talking points for PR opportunities ensures that all staff know what to do in this situation.

Having established SOPs is also valuable when your organization is growing. New staff and volunteers have a resource to answer many of their questions and get them up-to-speed.

Setting Standards for…

You can define your nonprofit’s practices for just about anything, but that doesn’t mean you should. The goal of standard operating procedures should not be to control every aspect of your organization, but to give your employees guidelines to help them make good decisions.

A few areas of operations that can benefit from SOPs are:

  • Public relations
  • Social media posts and responses
  • Blog activity
  • Responding to donor emails
  • Volunteer orientation and training
  • Event safety and liability

For an organization with a lot of volunteer opportunities, it makes sense to set standard procedures for onboarding anyone who’s new to the program. The SOP might start off with something like this:

Volunteer Orientation and Training

1. All potential volunteers must complete a volunteer application with up-to-date contact information.
2. Before they start working with us, volunteers must attend one of our monthly orientation meetings.
3. Volunteers must sign a liability waiver.

A process like this makes it easy to explain how one can become a volunteer and lets staff know how they can help someone get started. By following this basic set of guidelines, the organization can ensure that all volunteers have up-to-date contact information on file and have gone through basic training at orientation.

Everyone in your organization has a different sphere of knowledge and responsibility. Defining basic practices empowers your whole team to respond when an issue arises.

How to Get Started

Once you decide to put some guidelines in place, start with one or two tasks that can be simplified or streamlined. For example, you might notice that when someone calls your office, they get a different greeting from every staff member. This is a recurring task that that can be easily standardized with a few bullet points.

Start by thinking about what anyone in your organization needs to know about this topic. What are the most important steps? With the volunteer orientation procedures, readers know that the most important steps to becoming a volunteer are filling out an application, attending orientation, and signing a waiver.

When it comes to answering the phone, your most important steps might be…

  • Identify the organization- “The Cincinnati Center for Literacy…”
  • Identify the staff member speaking- “…this is Nancy…”
  • Politely offer help- “…how can I help you?”

Laying out the basic steps of a task makes it easier for anyone to help out. With some processes, though, it can be just as important to point out common mistakes and pitfalls. If you were creating guidelines for how to post and respond on social media, you want everyone in your organization to know what not to do.

In your social media guidelines, you might include:

  • Do not like or comment on posts unrelated to our organization or cause.
  • Do not respond to negative comments with anger or sarcasm.

By setting standards for the way you want your organization to communicate on social media, you allow staff to interact with your audience armed with the knowledge of “how we do things around here.”

Be Reasonable, Not Restrictive

If you find yourself having to explain something over and over to your staff, it might be time to set some guidelines and standards to save everyone’s time. You can start with a few simple rules like the ones for volunteers above. Remember, the goal is to give everyone the information they need to help your organization, not to dictate every step of the process.

Finally, make sure that everyone in your nonprofit has access to your standard operating procedures. Rules and guidelines don’t do any good if no one knows about them. Keep your SOP in a place all staff have access to and let everyone know whenever you make changes or updates to it.

Every Campaign. Every Channel. #Winning

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