What are common & difficult management challenges (non-profit context)?
March 16, 2017 8:20 AM   Subscribe

I am interviewing for a job in the next few weeks. In my role I would help non-profit managers improve their management skills in order to support the work of their team and meet the objectives of their organization.

I have been prepping but would love to hear what some of your challenges have been - either as a manager/"middle manager"/supervisor or employee, or executive director. And how were they resolved well? When did it not go well? I have my own experiences and have been preparing, but I am hoping to think through as many common (or even unique) scenarios as possible in order to prepare, which is why I am asking for your help. They could be related to delegation, performance evaluation, new hires, or more senior employees who are under performing, communication challenges, the full scope of someone's role as a manager.

Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Mine lately centers around a fairly high performer who burns a lot of bridges personally and professionally.
posted by vunder at 10:18 AM on March 16, 2017

You might want to dive into the archives at Ask a Manager. Alison Green, who runs it, was a non-profit manager. Many of the questions are general and not non-profit specific but I'm sure you'll find non-profit specific information if you dig. And many management challenges are pretty general.
posted by peacheater at 10:26 AM on March 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with peacheater. For me, management issues are common across the board. Managers must have the ability to correctly assess and fix problems on behalf of the organization.

One approach to assisting a manager with an issue would be asking the question "how does this issue affect the organization's mission and how do we get back on track?" The applied solution should point towards the success of the charity or company.
posted by mountainblue at 10:51 AM on March 16, 2017

Hi - this is more my brain fart on challenges we face as an NGO than it is an answer to your question of problems/challenges at the management level, but I think the below affects those concerns as well:

Not enough funding, not enough staff, not enough time to oversee that everything is functioning properly - that ranges on everything from proper onboarding of our employees to strong operational and finance systems to time to think more critically about our approach to problems our organization is trying to address as its mission. Constant search for funding means we can't offer continuous/stable employment for some. Sometimes between grants/funding streams we have to let people go and hope they will still be available when new funding starts. Don't always have money for training of staff and some donors don't want to prioritize that. People who are not properly trained don't manage funding as well and don't have as good a handle on things like donor compliance, which can result in disallowances. Donors in general not always having the same funding priorities means that we can't always take our programming in the direction we want to. Some donors want to keep a very tight rein on what we do with their money, while others let us do what we want. For those keeping a tight rein, there is a lot of time spent on donor communications and producing documents for them to review or to show our progress that might actually be better spent in some other fashion.

Some of the things you mention in the question (team cohesion, delegation, performance, etc.) I agree may experience common challenges across sectors, as mentioned in responses above. Above are some of the things I tend to think of as specific to us as an NGO.
posted by knownfossils at 11:04 AM on March 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I do this for a living and I have done a few conference presentations on the topic. Feel free to send me MeFi mail and I will send you the presentations.
posted by juniperesque at 11:44 AM on March 16, 2017

Two things:
1. First, I don't think most managers know basic employment law. If they did, most really dumb stuff wouldn't happen...So no matter what else, start there (and make sure you know it too!)
2. Second, one of my greatest management challenges is figuring out how to manage people who are not like me, communicate in different ways, think about problems differently, experience anxiety or become overwhelmed when I wouldn't be, etc.

Probably the best thing you could do though is help managers learn how to deescalate any situation - even if it is very, very bad. The stakes are a little higher at non-profits because people tend to be overworked and underpaid, so it can heighten tensions that might already exist.
posted by Toddles at 8:52 PM on March 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Non-profit senior manager here. My biggest challenges, or challenges I've seen other managers have:

- Working with project managers and other people managers in a relatively new matrix management structure, where the people I manage (or the people they manage) are often dealing with conflicting messages or directives, or confusion about roles.

- Dealing with performance issues in a constructive way. 1. People who work in non-profits are often fairly egalitarian types, which can be challenging when a manager needs to deal with staff that have behavior or performance issues. 2. Non-profit staff often feel like their organization is a family, which makes it really hard to fire people, or means that people stay for longer than they should even when they're not happy.

- Trying to do everything on shoestring budgets. This is not all non-profits, but I have worked for several where, either due to unrealistic expectations from funders, or unrealistic ambition from staff, people tried to do WAY too much given the budget/resources available, which leads to work being subpar and people getting burned out.

- People being given responsibility (especially managing projects or people) without the proper training or support.

- Low pay leading to high turnover. This is more of a problem in small or medium-sized non-profits, but especially in professional areas where the skills transfer easily to the for-profit sector (IT, legal, marketing, etc.), it can be a huge issue. I've worked at orgs where people made less than 50% what they could make in the for-profit sector, and it's almost impossible to keep good people. When non-profits can get people closer to 75% what they'd make in the for-profit sector, it's easier to keep people. But you still have to make it worthwhile through meaningful work (ie, people really feel like the org is successful at carrying out the mission, and that they play a part in that) and professional development/advancement opportunities - or else you will lose your best people.
posted by lunasol at 3:53 PM on March 17, 2017

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