Expansion is a good thing. In most cases, it means you’ve done your job well enough for long enough to add additional programming, campaigns or other projects. But it’s not always easy to know when you’re ready to expand, and it’s harder yet to know if your expansion should involve the addition of new staff. After all, nonprofits often work on volatile shoestring budgets, making it difficult to add another set of wages to the payroll. Whether or not you should expand is a question that’s different for everyone—it’s personal and should be considered within the context of your organization. However, if you’re looking for a starting place, check out these tips.
If you’re considering expanding your staff, you need to take a step back and determine how overworked, if at all, you and your staff are. Consider what’s on your own plate and then talk to your staff members—and tell them to be brutally honest. You won’t make any progress if staff members are pretending to be content when they’re actually exhausted and overworked.
If the overwhelming response is that your staff feels spread too thin, you know a change is needed. Whether or not that change comes in the form of additional staff depends on a number of factors.
You’ve likely already done this, but before you make any official staffing decisions you need to have a detailed budget. Staff salaries, program costs, operating costs, overhead, emergency funds—everything. Once you know how much cash you’re bringing in—from donations, earned income or other revenue sources—and how much you need to maintain operations, you can make a more informed decision about expanding your staff.
If you’re operating in the red or barely breaking even, you probably don’t want to add another expense in the form of a staff member. You might even want to consider cutting back on your programs until you’re profitable. But if you have a little extra cash to work with, you at least know it’s in the realm of possibility. (Note: you should have at least twice what it would cost per month to support a staff member before starting your search.)
Even if you have the means to expand your staff, that doesn’t mean it’s always the right choice. If, when you interviewed your staff, they complained of being bogged down by tedious administrative work, you might be able to utilize volunteers. Or, if the work is more substantial, a part-time worker could do the trick.
You should also consider the time of year: are you amidst an unusually busy season or campaign? Will some of the work likely subside by the time it’s over? If you have a consistently busy time of year, employing part- or full-time seasonal workers is also an option. Just make sure you’re upfront with them about the nature of their work.
As a general rule, the addition of permanent full-time staff members should be reserved for new or expanding programs, organization-wide administration and leadership needs.
Knowing whether or not to expand your staff is hard, and it’s not a decision you should take lightly. If you have the means, the addition of a staff member can spur a rebirth in your organization. But it can also put you in an even worse position than you were before. Slow down, evaluate your situation and move forward. Don’t forget to breathe.