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Hurricanes, wildfires, and terrorist attacks capture headlines, but most risks are internal, not external. Because they are so busy, nonprofits often fail to identify and document their core processes. This leads to inefficiency, ineffectiveness, and inconsistent results. This month’s newsletter provides resources for addressing that risk. 

All organizations have fat. After consulting for decades with some of the best companies in the world, Peter Drucker wrote that “in business, as in any other social organism, 10 or 15 percent of the [work] . . . produce[s] 80 to 90 percent of the results. The other 85 or 90 percent of the [work,] no matter how efficiently taken care of, produce nothing but costs.” But while large corporations may sometimes stomach such bloating without fatal indigestion, nonprofits cannot. Nonprofits face budgetary constraints and always must do more with less. They need to do what they set out to do with a minimum of waste. That requires documentation. 

Furthermore, because many nonprofits are thinly staffed, nonprofits are vulnerable to losing essential knowledge when personnel leave or are out for extended periods. Nonprofits can’t afford to create a new development function each time their development head leaves. They can’t do without adherence to programmatic requirements while their program director is out on maternity leave. And how much critical knowledge is in the executive director’s head, instead of someplace where others can use it when he or she is not around?

Developing and documenting processes can reduce this risk. Moreover, identifying, standardizing, and stabilizing core processes can form a baseline for improvement. So here are some of our favorite articles on why processes can make a difference — and how to get started.

The Power of Process

A Wildly Successful Business is a Boring Business, by Gino Wickman.

Liberate Your Team With Better Processes, by Elizabeth Doty. 

The Power of Predictability, by Howard Stevenson and Mihnea Moldoveanu. 

Routinizing Reflection

How Your Nonprofit Can Routinize Reflection, by Beth Kantor.

Templates for Processes

20 Free SOP Templates to Make Recording Processes Quick and Painless, by Adam Henshall.

How to Write a Procedure: 13 Steps to Eclipse Your Competition, by Ben Mulholland. 

Standardizing Processes: How to Create a Documentation Style Guide, by Ben Mulholland.

Building Systems and Processes When You Have No Time

How to Create Business Systems Even When You Have No Time, by Adam Henshall. 

How to Create an Operations Manual for Your Business (and Avoid Nuclear War), by Ben Mulholland. 

How to Get Your Employees to Document Procedures for Your Business! – with Tim Francis.
How to Create Systems for Your Business Even if the Work That Your Employees Do for your Clients Changes Frequently! – with Raj Goel. 

Get People to Follow Processes

Process Adherence: What to Do When No One Follows Your Processes, by Benjamin Brandall. 

What To Do Now

1. If these articles have whet your appetite, explore two web-based platforms that help organizations develop processes inexpensively — Process Street and SweetProcess. We use Process Street and love it, and we’ve heard good things about SweetProcess, too. 

2. Also, explore some web-based project management platforms. We use Trello religiously to keep our team headed in the right direction. If you explore Trello, I advise reading Personal Kanban, which explains how simple work tracking can dramatically improve results.