This quote from poet and screenwriter Nino Varsimashvili really resonated with me when I heard it recently. I have frequently seen that profound change can happen through a simple innovation or a minor change in focus.

Over the years I’ve seen many non-profits struggle to deliver community programming through a network of local offices. Keeping these offices open to the public often becomes a full-time job for local staff and volunteers. This can mean only clients that can get to the office get attention. It’s a scenario that plays out in dozens of organizations in the same community.

Sharing office services and office space would free up staff and volunteers so they could get out into the community and serve more clients. This sharing can take different forms. Individual organizations could move into small business or social innovation centres where they take advantage of shared office amenities. Or, several smaller organizations could rent joint space and shared office services and resources.

I’ve often seen organizations struggle to find talented staff for highly specialized positions. The traditional non-profit staffing model is to hire staff within commuting distance of their office. This can mean a revolving door of vacancies in critical positions until someone stops to ask if there’s better way. In today’s world, many of these positions can be staffed by people working from anywhere in the world. It just takes some planning and a commitment to evaluate work by outcomes rather than “time in the office”.

Another approach is for similar organizations to hire the same interim finance officer or human resources expert for a few days each a month. This means they each get affordable executive level expertise and knowledge when it’s needed.

There are over 170,000 charitable and non-profit organizations in Canada [1]. They vary in size from small community organizations to hospitals, universities, national and international associations. Often several organizations within one community share similar mandates. Traditionally, each organization struggles to raise funds and deliver on its mandate.  Similar organizations often receive funding from the same source and deliver only slightly different services to the same clients. This can go on for years until a crisis causes someone to ask “Why don’t we work together?”. I have seen this simple question lead to profound and positive changes when organizations integrate programs to better serve clients or; remain separate but share services or; ultimately, amalgamate.

These solutions resulting from a simple question can make a very big difference.

My Osborne Group colleagues and I have decades of experience paying attention to the little things and simple questions to lead organizations to breakthroughs. We would love to help you create solutions that better serve your mission. Give us a call or drop us an email!

[1] National Survey of Nonprofit and Voluntary Organizations (Hall et al., 2004).


By Gary O’Connor

NFP Governance & Management

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