7 Time Management Tips for Nonprofit Professionals
All throughout high school and university, I volunteered. I was a part of the community, and I loved it. There was meaning to the work I was doing. And on a personal level, I really enjoyed what my days looked like.
After school, I took a corporate job — and that lasted all of half a year. It wasn’t the same. So I went back to the sector that I loved. And I’ve been working for and with nonprofits ever since.
In my time in the sector, there was one truth that stood out: there is never enough time. It’s an unspoken rule within the sector, that you are to wear multiple different hats — executing on multiple objectives that fall outside of your job description, except for the all-encompassing “other duties as assigned”. But you do it because you understand the impact of the work.
The bottom line for nonprofits is changed lives. That’s the lever that goes up and down — so you work your butt off to make it happen. But it doesn’t have to be an impossible task. One of my earliest mentors in the sector stressed the importance of time management — and it’s a life saver. Here are some of the tips that I learned:
Time-blocking. This might seem like an obvious one — but I didn’t start doing it until it was suggested to me. I take some time at the end of every week to look ahead to what I have to get done in the next week. Then I block off some time in my calendar to complete a task. This does a few things: it reminds you of the work you need to be doing at a given time, but it also (and more importantly) shows the rest of your team that you’re busy working on something — a signal that they shouldn’t bother you with something else.
Collaborate. You know the saying: team-work makes the dream work! This is so true in the nonprofit sector. We can’t change lives alone. We need to lean on people who are just as passionate about the cause as we are. Our teams are full of talented people who are looking for opportunities to make an impact. Don’t take on the world alone — you have so many people on the front lines with you. Lean on them, and give them some of your work if you can’t handle it.
Hard Stop. Meetings have a way of wasting days. We’ve all had those days where we are just running from one meeting to another — and they may all very well be important. Sometimes, you have to meet to get things done. But one of the most valuable things I learned was the hard stop. If a meeting is scheduled to end at 2PM, end it at 2PM. You’re not being rude — you’re being respectful to everyone’s schedules, especially your own.
Take breaks. Focus time is exhausting. What you are at your desk or on the frontlines working away, it gets tiring. And you can easily reach a point of burn-out if you keep going at that pace. That’s why it’s important to take time to step away from your work every now and then. Talk a walk, grab some coffee, or just do something peaceful and unrelated to work at your desk. These little breaks keep me sane — and also help me get focused for my next task.
Say No. This is one of the most important words in your vocabulary — but also one of the hardest ones to say in the nonprofit sector. There will never be a shortage of work to do. There will never be a shortage of projects to jump on. But that doesn’t lessen the importance of what you’re currently working on. It’s okay to say “No”, if you’re busy working on another task.
Schedule “Me-Time”. The hours seem to slip away during the work day. It’s easy to justify working late — I do it all the time. But never let that come at the expense of your non-work life. Although “work-life balance” looks a bit different now, just remember that it’s still important. Just like to time-block your tasks, time-block some time for yourself. Even if that means just unplugging and shutting off for a few hours every night.
Use Technology. There are SO MANY free tools available for you. And depending on where your organization is in their growth — there are some great paid options as well. Time literally is money in this sector, so anything that helps you save time is a wise investment. Efficiency tools and nonprofit management software are can make your job much easier.
I would highly recommend checking them out. Most of these tools (including Keela) have free trials, so check them out!
These tips have helped me a great deal when it comes to managing my time in the nonprofit sector. I hope they will be helpful to you as well! For more tips on time management, check out some of these great articles: