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Organizational Management

A Guide To Effective Team Management For Nonprofits

Author: Tatiana Morand
July 3, 2019
🕑 11 min read

Have you ever watched someone try to catch a chicken?

Running around the yard, arms waving, following the elusive chicken to and fro in wild patterns? This was the image that often came to mind when Elizabeth was chairing her association’s annual fundraising luncheon.

Between running meetings, organizing committees, planning the logistics, and working with the venue, there was certainly more to do than one person could handle. “Delegate,” everyone told her.

But whenever she tried, Elizabeth found that she just had new problems. Keeping people on task. Following up to remind people of what they said they’d do. Trying to figure out where the ball got dropped. Fielding a hundred new ideas, right after she’d made a decision… And somehow trying to do it all without hurting anyone’s feelings.

The luncheon wasn’t for another month, but already Elizabeth was daydreaming about it being over and trying to figure out a way to get out of working on it next year. The funny thing was, she liked event planning, and really wanted to serve her organization.

It was just the “people part” that was stressing her out.

Mona, who was the executive director of a small nonprofit, was also experiencing something similar.

In the last year, her organization had added three staff positions. She was confident in her hires and excited about their potential to make change and get things accomplished. But their potential seemed to be just that…potential. Everyone worked on their own things, chipping away at problems, instead of blowing through them as Mona had pictured.

So, if this collection of individuals was going to become a team, Mona realized she was going to have to do something different.

But what?

If you’re leading a team at a nonprofit, you probably have a chicken-chasing story of your own.

However, I’ve seen firsthand how managers can transform from frazzled and frustrated to confident and efficient by developing their team management skills — and how you can too.

In this post, we’re going to look at:

Want to become even more of an expert? Check out our upcoming webinar by marketing expert Nancy Schwartz on July 23rd!

Team Management For Nonprofits

Nonprofits are all about people coming together to do more than they could alone, so learning to work effectively in teams is a must.

But why is it so hard so much of the time? There are a lot of reasons teamwork can be challenging, but one of the biggest is making the wrong fundamental assumption: that teamwork “just happens”, and doesn’t require any special planning or skills.

After all, if everyone’s trying their best, and we all want the same thing, it should be easy, right?

However, as Elizabeth and Mona learned, there are many barriers to successful teamwork, including:

  • Different communication styles
  • Different priorities
  • Insufficient organization
  • Pre-existing conflict
  • Uncertainty
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of resources

On the face of it, that’s not the most heartening list — but the good news is that good team management can solve a lot of these problems.


  • Communicating the same information in different ways as a matter of course
  • Outlining the team’s highest priorities together, and revisiting them frequently
  • Using organizational tools to streamline the work and keep everyone on the same page
  • Establishing ground rules for the work
  • Clarifying roles and expectations
  • Creating space for self-care and decompression
  • Working together to get the most out of the resources you have, and discovering untapped ones

What Is Good Team Management, Anyway?

A well-managed team meets its goals by using the talents of each team member to best effect. Each member knows what the highest priority is, and understands their role in making it happen. If things go wrong, the team members can trust that there’s a process to fix it. If they encounter a problem, they know they can find help from their other team members and manager. That sounds good, doesn’t it?

So, how do we get there?

How To Best Lead a Team

A good team manager unites the team to pursue its goals, provides its members with the tools and resources they need, and helps create a work process that best serves the team. The manager keeps an eye on the big picture, enforces deadlines and process changes, and helps team members solve problems.

Elizabeth realized that she’d been quite hesitant leading her team. So, at her next meeting, she started on a new note. Before she began the discussion, she stated what she planned to accomplish.

“By the end of the meeting, we’ll have decided on a caterer, compiled a list of fifteen potential donors for the silent auction, and agreed on a deadline for the decorating committee,” she said.

It didn’t feel completely natural to set the agenda so strongly, but once everyone had heard the goals it was so much easier to get the meeting back on track when it started to drift.

You’ll have the best results as a leader if you are:

Transparent— Show your team how your decision-making process works, be clear about your thinking and be open about your own successes and failures

Respectful— Respect your team members’ time and contributions. Start and end meetings on time, give all team members the opportunity to share their ideas, come to each meeting prepared

Confident— Someone has to lead the team, and if that person is you, don’t be afraid to be “in charge.” Lead the discussion and set the pace, rather than letting things get chaotic because you’re afraid of seeming bossy

Flexible— There’s more than one way to do things, and sometimes circumstances necessitate change. If your team members are getting results, does it matter if they do it differently than you would?

Positive— Celebrate wins and try to keep the mood positive, even when the going gets tough. That’s not to say you have to be relentlessly cheery all the time, but it’s easy for morale to crash when negativity is a habit.

Did you notice that none of these traits require you to be naturally talented at being a leader? You can decide to practice them, rather than having to already “be” them.

5 Team Management Skills Every Manager Needs

You probably became the manager of a team because you were great at something.

Maybe you were an excellent fundraiser, or volunteer coordinator, or event planner.

Then, someone said: “That person sure knows what they’re doing! Put them in charge!”

This may mean that you have a ton of practical skills for meeting your team’s goals, but don’t necessarily have the team management skills you need yet.

The good news is that becoming a great manager is a skill that can be cultivated like all the other things you’ve already learnt to be great at.

Mona took a good look at her management style, and discovered she needed to communicate more clearly. She called her staff together, and told them that she wanted to work on developing their work as a team. Instead of hoping they’d pick up her hints as she had in the past, she spelled out what she was hoping to see, and asked if they had any ideas for how to get there.

To her amazement, everyone seemed relieved! They’d seen opportunities to work together, but hadn’t wanted to step on anyone’s toes, or disrespect her leadership. The team made several suggestions that hadn’t occurred to Mona, but that she immediately saw could be very useful.

So, if you can cultivate these skills, you’ll be well on your way to adding “excellent team lead” to your list of accolades.

1. This Seems Obvious, But It Needs To Be Said

Time management may seem like a mundane skill to make the top of the list, but when you can’t manage your time, you can’t manage your team. Whether it’s a giant wall calendar, a Pomodoro timer, using templates like these ones for meeting minutes to save you time, or setting a thousand alarms on your phone, find a time management system that works for you. This is essential for getting things done, and makes it easier for your team to trust your leadership—they know you’ll do things when you say you will. As the team manager, you set the schedule and oversee progress. Check in with your team about how they like to keep on track. One person may really appreciate frequent reminders, while someone else may find constant check-ins annoying. You’ll only know if you ask.

It’s also your job to identify where time is being wasted. Do you need multiple meetings, or would one meeting and an email work? Is the discussion running longer than is useful? Are you doing activities that don’t actually support your goals?

2. Can You Hear Me Now?

Lead your team with clear communication, and you’ll stop problems before they start.


  • Explicitly stating expectations, deadlines, and procedures
  • Avoiding sugar coating and hinting if you want something to change—this seems nice, but actually makes it harder for people to succeed, and breeds resentment on both ends of the conversation.
  • Checking for understanding, rather than assuming everyone is following you.
  • Communicating information in different ways to best reach all learning styles (Say it aloud in the meeting, send an email follow-up restating it, and write it on the group calendar)
  • Using tools to streamline your communication

3. There’s More Than One Way To Catch A Chicken

The best team managers are mentally flexible and focus on solving problems rather than assigning blame. You can get better at solving problems by thinking about them more critically.


  • Taking time to consider before jumping into action.
  • Inviting your team to share their perspectives on problems.
  • Entertaining new ideas about how to solve an issue, rather than defaulting to what you’ve always done.

4. You’re Going To Have To Loosen Your Grip

You can’t do it all alone—that’s why there’s a team!

And to lead it well, you have to delegate. This may require you to get more comfortable letting go of things, as you move more into overseeing tasks than completing them. Be clear on what you want to be done, but be careful of micromanaging or taking over. As you assign tasks, you’ll consider the strengths and skills of your team members.

Some roles and jobs assignments will be obvious — the development manager will write the fundraising letter, the volunteer coordinator will recruit volunteers. Other tasks may be based on who has room in their schedule, or who dislikes it the least. For great team leaders, delegation isn’t just a way to take things off their own plates — it’s a way to help their team members grow. As you assign tasks, look for opportunities to give someone a new challenge, or a chance to develop their skills.

5. The Thing Everyone Wants Their Manager To Do

Good team managers listen. When team members raise issues or present ideas, hear them out. Believe them when they tell you something is a problem. Consider their ideas, even if your first inclination is to say, “no.” You may still end up there, but the team member will know they were respected and heard. If they get the sense that you’re tuning them out, it’s likely they’ll disengage. So listen actively to keep your team sharing ideas and communicating openly.

Taking Care Of Your Team: Managing Burnout

Working hard for a long time to fight giant challenges without many resources is difficult, and people get tired. Consequently, burnout is the plague of the nonprofit world. As a manager, you can make a big difference for your team, so they can keep fighting the good fight while remaining healthy.

Protect your team from burnout by:

Leading by Example. If you never take a vacation day, stay until 10 pm every night, and work through every lunch, you’re sending a clear message to your team, even if you don’t mean to. Prioritize your own self-care, and your team will feel more comfortable doing so, too. Check Yourself. Are your expectations reasonable? Are your standards high, or are they unreachable? Is your schedule based in reality, or wishful thinking? These are good questions for any manager to ask.

Check-In. Ask your team members how it’s going. Specifically ask about their energy, enthusiasm, and provide space for them to honestly talk about it. Encourage them to take care of themselves. Build in Breaks. Make self-care part of your team culture by building in opportunities to relax and decompress. Whether it’s establishing a clear “no work talk at lunch” rule, calling an end to the day a little early, or bringing in a treat, be purposeful about breaks.

Read More: 10 Ways to Definitely Burn Out as a Nonprofit Employee

7 Free Team Management Tools To Make Your Job Easier

If you’re trying to manage entire projects and teams in a single spreadsheet, you’ll be happy to know that help has arrived! Team management software can help you manage team projects simply and efficiently. Most team management software organizes information visually, either as lists or as columns of “cards” for each task. You can assign tasks to team members, create a shared calendar, and create workflows. All the reminding is automated, and you can check-in on tasks just by looking at your dashboard. When you’re choosing project management software, a lot will come down to your unique team and personal preferences.

As you check out different tools, ask yourself:

  • Do I like the way information is laid out?
  • Would I have to spend a ton of time learning to use this?
  • Does this program allow the number of users I need?
  • Can I integrate this software with the other software I already use?

Good team management software saves you time and headaches by streamlining the tedious tasks of managing. Try any one of these free tools to take sending reminders and updates off your to-do list and stem the tide of constant emails.


Airtable allows you to customize fields, attach files, and view revision history. It also allows you to decide how you want to organize information: kanban cards, grids, forms calendars, or galleries.


Asana offers several views of information, and allows you to assign tasks and due dates. If you upgrade to a paid version, it also has a timeline feature.


Billing itself as “one app to replace them all”, ClickUp has many functions, but allows you to hide the ones you aren’t using.


Freedcamp has the usual calendar and task features, along with a discussion function to tame all those emails, and a private task feature for the to-do lists that only apply to you.

Kanban Flow

It’s exactly what it says it is: Kanban cards for workflows. It also has built in timetrackers, including a Pomodoro timer, and a place for conversation.


For the visual thinkers, Meistertask integrates with a mind mapping app, so you can brainstorm productively.


Trello is a simple-to-use Kanban card system, which allows limited integrations with their free plan.

Go, Team, Go!

With your new team management skills and tools to help you lead the way, chicken chasing will become a thing of the past. You’ll overcome the barriers to teamwork, and spend less time struggling, and more time reaching your goals.

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