Mark and Mike,

Thank you for your wonderful podcasts. I am a program director for a nonprofit and have found that, although your podcasts are generally directed towards corporate managers, many of the basic management principles and tools apply to nonprofit managers as well. Since we don't have the financial resources to hire consultants and provide extensive management training, your podcasts are a particularly useful resource as I work to develop my own management skills and further the work of my organization.

I would appreciate hearing any special thoughts or comments you may have on developing as a manager in a nonprofit. Also, it would be great to hear from any other listeners who also work in the social sector.

Thanks again,

MikeK's picture


I am interested in the same questions and along the same lines, if you(Mark and Mike) have had any experience training or introducing your plans for meetings, coaching and feedback into a volunteer organization. In these organizations there is often no specific leader or person responsible so it is more difficult to take a roll where coaching is easy to implement to improve the efficiency of how thngs are operated.

Would love to here more thoughts on these topics as well as Carolina's.


Mark's picture

Carolina and Mike-

Great questions! Glad you asked them.

You both should know that I have consulted to the American Cancer Society for years, and speak at non-profit annual meetings as a trainer and keynote speaker several times every year.

My daughter is a cancer survivor, and I co-founded and ran one of the most successful fundraisers in the state of Texas for several years (Relay For Life in my community). I've been a volunteer, trained thousands of volunteers, consulted to them and their staff counterparts. I've been on the steering committee as a volunteer for SEVERAL divisions of the ACS, and have consulted to them as a paid management development expert. I have MANY friends in the ACS, and am actively coaching a number even now.

Good enough? ;-)

That said, there is NOTHING in MT that doesn't work equally well in non-profits! An organization is an organization is an organization.

Regarding non-profits, I recommend you read Peter Drucker: Managing the Non-Profit Organization. It's THE classic book on the subject. Probably too high level in some ways, but it's Drucker, and he's the man.

One on Ones, coaching, feedback, etc. ALL work just fine in non-profits. I have trained thousands to use them.

I do think that most non-profits do a HORRIBLE job of developing people. While their mission is OFTEN much clearer than for profit orgs, they do a much worse job in aligning people towards them. I find senior management to be focused either on fund-raising with large donors and/or satisfying their own pet projects, with boards that don't do an effective job of guiding, leading and providing feedback to, the senior team. This is particularly true in healthcare related np's.

Now, there's nothing wrong with fund-raising, but it happens at the expense of developing others. Management development is generally non-existent. Many senior leaders are there because they can raise money, and yet don't know how to inspire and train others to do that (which, when you're a VP, ought to be core to your job and is not, in my experience).

I don't see this changing any time soon... so, the question is, what to do about it.

My recommendation is to focus on your own development. Use one on ones, coaching and feedback internally to improve your results. Build relationships with others above around and below you in the chain, so that you're not always only calling them when you need something.

I would like to offer more, but the comments were kind of general. One final thought, though. Most front line folks in np's have not yet learned the most important rule: recruit EXCEPTIONAL volunteers and let them go. Don't think you can manage them (because they know you can't and you don't have the time anyway, if your scale is right). Spend LOTS of time recruiting future vols who are self-motivated and highly competent, and then trust them to do what you need them to do.

Okay, enough on the soapbox.

Questions, comments? Glad you asked? (Maybe not?)


Anonymous's picture

Hi Mark,

Thanks for the response! I appreciate your insights into nonprofit management; my comments were general because I was unsure if this was an appropriate topic for this forum, but I did want you to know that there was an audience for your podcasts outside of the corporate arena.

However, now that you've revealed your background with nonprofits, I do have a couple of questions... :D

1. As you pointed out, nonprofits do not do a great job of developing people. There's not much investment in training, mentoring, or career development. My question is what steps/resources would you recommend for career development? I intend to develop my own skills as a manager by implementing some of the specific recommendations you make in MT, but once I develop those, what are the next steps?

2. Can you elaborate on your comment about not trying to manage volunteers? I've been listening to your podcasts and thinking about how to adapt your suggestions to volunteers (i.e., one-on-ones) since my staff is overwhelmingly comprised of volunteers. Your statement about not being able to manage volunteers has me intrigued.

I particularly agree with your recommendation about recruiting exceptional volunteers, and it will be a good guiding principle for me as I continue to develop my department and staff.

Thanks for all your help!


P.S. I've just started reading Drucker's The Effective Executive (and started my time log today) and will read Managing the Nonprofit Organization next.

Mark's picture


I want you to know that I will respond shortly. I'm on an exceptionally full trip right now, and don't get back to the office til Thursday night. I will post fully on Friday.

Thanks for your questions!

It's a privilege to serve you.


Mark's picture


So sorry this took so long. I underestimated my workload last week, and am just now catching up. (no excuse.)

1. Next steps are to just stick with Manager Tools for a while. I'd have to know a great deal more about your background to make any more substantial recommendations. if you want that, you'll have to post some details for me to get a sense of where you are and what you and your org's goals are. For now, remember this: focus on your key results, whatever the org thinks those are, and get to those by knowing your craft and motivating others to help you get there. The more people who are on your team, the better.

And, Manager Tools is going to start providing some premium membership services, with online tools and resources. As those come out, take a look and see how they might help.

2. What I meant about not managing volunteers is that to remember that they don't work for you, and many of the normal rules of organizational leadership don't apply.

Of course, one on ones and feedback work like a dream, because they're not about the organization, they're about people relationships, and behavior. So I didn't mean not to do those. You simply have to have a lighter touch.

The key with volunteers is recruiting. It's far better to have fewer whom you can count on rather than just "lots". At this point, it will also depend on what you do and what they are doing for you - events, patient visits, admin stuff... different roles, different approaches, to some degree.

Hope this helps. If you want to know more, share more of your situation.

It's a privilege!


ehyde111's picture

Carolina and Mark,
Thank you for bringing this topic up. I’ve been thinking about it for some time now and was about to post when I found the discussion was well underway.

Some background before I get to my question.

I am what you would call a front-line manager supervising 11 direct reports in a mid-sized corporation (about 300-400 employees). We are a team of rehabilitation therapists and assistants (Physical, Speech, and Occupational Therapists) providing services to a Retirement community (skilled nursing, assisted living, independent living, outpatient clients). The key metrics by which we are measured are 1. Some measure of financial solvency. It varies among census, caseload, revenue, reimbursement levels. 2. Productivity, in regards to billable hours without respect to financials. 3. Timeliness of service delivery. 4. Performance on annual compliance reviews by agencies such as the State Department of health. 5. Individual reports of satisfaction from patients.

I agree that one-on-ones, feedback, and coaching are cornerstones, however, at times I have a difficult time extrapolating the comments on project management, projects, multiple customers to our environments. Yes, all of that occurs, but on a much smaller scale.

Essentially, I don’t have a well formed question at present, just some thoughts that I’m trying to put in order. I also plan to check out Peter Drucker’s book that you have recommended previously. Any additional thoughts would be appreciated. If you do have the chance to give service-industry examples in future podcasts, it would also be much appreciated.

Thanks for your time and the service that you provide to my team and I
Christopher Benfield

xaniel2000's picture

An old topic but interesting nonetheless!

Having worked in the non-profit sector as a paid manager, I can offer a few bits of advice about "managing" your volunteers.

As Mark alludes, there is only so much true "management" you can inflict upon a volunteer before they throw up their hands. You really don't have the same clout as you would dealing with a salaried worker; essentially, you're getting paid because you're able to keep them working for free!

So, the best advice is to make it worth their time. Encouragement, positive reinforcement, setting attainable goals, and always staying upbeat while consistently focusing your efforts on building a working environment that volunteers will appreciate and enjoy. This sort of thing comes easier to the High I's, as a lot of volunteer management relies on charisma; you need to be able to evoke positive behavoir and results by your presence and participation alone, which means not being overly assertive in your feedback, focusing on what was done right, and celebrating the achievements even if they did not meet your expectations!

My tip is to structure your volunteer program to include as many non-monetary incentives as possible. Get creative! I found that people respond favorably to things as simple as a "gold star" system with stickers next to their name on a bulletin board (some may remember this from elementary school!). A more sophisticated approach is to build goals into the individuals' profiles, and use O3's and feedback (positive comments, please!) to build them towards achieving them. When they succeed, make sure the rest of the program participants hear about it. Recognition is a powerful force, and volunteers appreciate that their hard work warrants more than just a smile.

As a non-sequitor conclusion, what Mark and Carolina mentioned about poor development and management's lack of direction ring very true. I left the non-profit industry due to my own poorly developed career path and feelings of being misled by the people in charge. Unfortunately, in general terms, I think much of that is ingrained in the nature of that business, and my personal experience led me to conclude that the ones who are "successful" (or a better word may be "happy" or "satisifed") are the ones who truly love the field of work and who don't measure success by their salary.