Nonprofit 411: Nonprofit Leaders Should Not Try to Do Everything

by Annette Rubin, founder of Coaching to Potential 

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This is an abridged version of an article originally published in massnonprofit news:

It may seem quickest and most efficient to handle that task or take on a project yourself, but there are compelling reasons why it is not in best, long-term interest for nonprofit leaders to do everythingrUBIN themselves.

Many nonprofit leaders say they feel responsible for everything that happens in their organization and it is just easier to “do it myself”. They may believe their staff is already working hard or that staff wouldn’t be able to complete the undertaking as well or as quickly. So, they continue to take on tasks that prevent them from doing their own job, which will really move the organization forward: planning, external relations, and fundraising.

Here are six reasons why delegating to staff, board members, or volunteers is ultimately better for your organization.

  1. Facilitating engagement– When you ask a staff member, board member or volunteer to take on a role that you might otherwise handle yourself you empower that person to feel essential. This connects individuals more closely to the organization and enhances their engagement. Employees who feel valued are more productive, have better morale and are more likely to stay with the organization. Engagement in the organization’s work helps individuals to have a clearer understanding of the organization’s mission, goals and impact.
  2. Creating a confident staff– Giving responsibility to staff members delivers a message of trust and confidence. Supply information the individual may need and express your expectations clearly. Tell employees that you are confident they can handle this project. Encourage them to check in with you if they have questions. With increased confidence, they will also be more likely to provide support on other challenging projects.
  3. Gaining new skills– If you continue to do projects yourself you miss the opportunity for others to learn new skills. It may take some time to teach them, or to pass on the information needed for them to be successful. However, once the new skill is learned, you won’t have to commit the time to do it yourself in the future, and the individual will be better equipped to be productive. Giving staff and board members the opportunity to learn, grow and take on responsibility will help you build an organization where the best people will be loyal and want to stay.
  4. Getting it all done– The truth is that there is really too much to accomplish well on your own. Passing some of the work on to others will make your organization more productive. Identify the tasks that may be accomplished by others. Don’t get stuck on whether it might take longer, or perhaps not be done as well. This is an investment in creating an organization that can accomplish all that is needed now, while also looking toward future growth and development.
  5. Teaching valuable lessons through failure– Bill Gates says, “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” Challenge your employees to take on new projects or tasks that stretch them. They may fail, but they may be wildly successful. Even if they fail, they have learned valuable lessons to apply to subsequent tasks. Having an organizational culture that promotes risk and learns from failure will promote new ideas and organizational growth.
  1. Avoiding burn-out– You may still argue that there is nobody else who can take on all the tasks with which you are currently charged, and get them done well and on time. Yes, you may be able to sustain the long days, evenings, and weekends, and the stress that entails for a while, but ultimately it will take its toll. You will be exhausted. You may become resentful. You may even think of leaving your position. Act before that happens! Invest time now to find and train others to help. Delegate. Your organization’s successful future depends on it.

Annette Rubin, founder of Coaching to Potential, helps nonprofit professionals strengthen leadership, management and strategic skills. Email to her at or call 508-561-4855.