In the non-profit world it is all too common to see a small group of hardworking folks trying to tackle a workload more appropriate for a large specialized staff. Staff are willing to try to do this, taking on more tasks than may be reasonable, because they are passionate about the cause. And with tight budgets it is easy for an organization to take advantage of this passion and keep adding to people’s already-full plates. But this passion can sometimes get in the way of effectively carrying out the mission.
We at Crooker Consulting call this the “Too Many Hats Syndrome.” When we use this phrase with our clients they immediately say, “YES!” They can relate and know all too well what operating this way feels like. And they have lived with the consequences, such as excessive staff turnover due to burnout and poor fit with the job, and failure to meet fundraising goals due to distractions that keep staff from focusing on raising money.
The “Too Many Hats Syndrome”, and never-ending task lists (remember my blog last month?) are intimately related. Here are a few pointers for addressing both:
1. When writing a job description for a new employee or designing a job position, remember this person does not need to be an expert in all things! For example, your Major Gifts officer should be someone who can get out there and speak to all types of donors effectively and ask for money. They should not be an expert in creating digital marketing materials. And if you are chaining them to their desk by expecting them to do lots of administrative work, they won’t hit their fundraising goals.
2. When assigning tasks, focus those assignments in the staff member’s areas of expertise. Of course, there are always times when everyone must pull together and help with tasks outside those areas, such as writing thank-you notes after a big event or setting up chairs and tables for said event. But make that the exception, not the rule.
3. Hire experts outside your organization for help with those things that are beyond your staff’s professional skills. It’s hard to spend more money when budgets are tight, but your staff will be able to more effectively raise money for your mission when they are not bogged down with an excessively long task list or forced to wear “too many hats”, especially in areas where they have limited experience.
4. Every few months examine your program and STOP doing some things before you ADD anything new. Sound strategy means making decisions about what is important to continue, not just adding more to your employees’ already full plates.