Admin vs programs: It doesn't have to be a nonprofit throwdown - Generocity Philly


Apr. 1, 2020 8:33 am

Admin vs programs: It doesn’t have to be a nonprofit throwdown

"Over the years I’ve made a lot of friends on the program side, and I’ve been fortunate that they share with me their thoughts on how [my] decisions affect them," says columnist Valerie Johnson.

The inherent divide between the administrative team and the service delivery team doesn't have to turn combative.

(Photo by Marvin Rheinheimer from Pixabay)

I’ve spent a lot of time working in social service nonprofits. And, as a result, I’ve spent a lot of time observing the inherent divide between the administrative team and the service delivery team.

As a fundraiser, I officially live on the administrative team. I understand why decisions are made and how they affect our ability to continue operations. However, in order to do my job well, I have to really understand how our programs work, which means I spend a lot of time with our program folks.

Over the years I’ve made a lot of friends on the program side, and I’ve been fortunate that they share with me their thoughts on how those decisions affect them.

The divide isn’t there because of personalities or because of clashing ideologies.

It’s there because the administrative team’s goal is to make sure that the organization remains financially sound. Decisions are made to ensure that the agency can continue to meet its mission and demand for services for many years to come. These folks are trained to make sure revenues cover expenses and the doors stay open.

The program side comes from a different angle. They’re trained to do what’s best for their clients, full stop. Many are social workers, and they want to provide the absolute best care possible for everyone on their caseload, which isn’t easily translated into units of service.

Of course, us admin folks want to do what’s best for our clients too. We’re just as dedicated to the mission and ensuring that folks get what they need, but we’re trained to look at things from a business perspective rather than a human perspective.

Balancing the two perspectives can lead to a lot of feelings.

But, it’s important to remember: both sides of this scale are needed to ensure success. It’s a delicate balance, and it requires collaboration and open communication from both sides.

If you’re on the admin side, remember:

  • Communication is key. If your program staff understand WHY they have to follow certain procedures or complete certain paperwork, they’re more likely to do it. We admin folks think that the why is obvious — it’s not. We need to say it out loud.

  • Transparency is huge. Don’t share some of the details or withhold half of the information as “need to know.” Tell program staff what’s going on clearly and concisely, without using deception.

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  • Program staff often have to pivot from service delivery to responding to a crisis and back again at a moment’s notice. Be understanding and compassionate — their day-to-day is a whole lot different than yours.

For those on the program side, try to keep in mind:

  • Case notes are not a thing we made up to torture you. It’s an administrative tool to track your work and the progress that clients make, which is submitted to funders to ensure we get paid. No case notes —= no pay (for the agency, and, ultimately, for you).

  • Finding and keeping funding for nonprofit programming is hard, and requires us to jump through a lot of hoops. We promise, those arbitrary requirements aren’t coming from us, they’re coming from the people who keep our doors open.

  • We’re just as dedicated to the mission as you are. We care about our clients and ensuring they get quality care too! We just support that mission with a very different set of tasks and priorities than you do.

In conclusion, a note to both sides: we’re all on the same team, and working towards the same goal. Our tasks are different, but at the end of the day both of us are needed to successfully achieve our mission.

Support each other!


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