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A recipe for creating a revolving door

Dear Sir,

I am writing after seeing advertisements placed recently in your paper for leadership positions in two well-known Bermuda non-profit organisations.

The St George’s Foundation is seeking a general manager and Greenrock is looking for an executive director.

The job descriptions for both of these positions require the successful candidate to represent and lead the organisation, liaise with their boards, raise funds, manage staff, create and manage budgets, and, in some cases, manage programmes.

In Greenrock’s case, the organisation has one other staff member who runs the Eco Schools programme.

The St George’s Foundation had two positions — executive director and development director. It looks like those two positions have been folded into the new role of general manager. As someone who has been involved in Bermuda’s non-profit sector for more than 35 years, both as a donor and as a board member, I know from personal experience that it’s impossible for one person to do all of these things, and do them to the board’s and to donors’ satisfaction.

Anyone applying for a position like this is doomed either to fail or to suffer burnout from the superhuman effort required to meet unreasonable expectations.

This is no criticism of the two organisations cited here, both of which have only good intentions. Their boards of directors are caring people who have Bermuda’s best interests at heart.

No doubt, budgetary constraints and the present economic climate are driving the decision to create all-inclusive roles such as these.

But the response to “There’s no money to do what we have to do” isn’t “Let’s cut our staff and get one person to do what two would normally do”.

There are two answers in this type of climate (and it’s a good answer in any environment): look for opportunities for collaboration with other organisations involved in similar undertakings, and examine programmes and services to make sure they’re still delivering on the mission of the organisation.

In looking at collaborative opportunities, ask: could administrative staff be shared? Office personnel? Programme support staff? Office space?

Take a page from Don McKenzie’s book. What if there was a Suite Solutions model for charities? One receptionist, shared meeting space, shared kitchens, shared IT systems — there’s no reason this couldn’t work in the non-profit sector.

In looking at programmes and services, ask: are we suffering from mission creep? Are we trying to be all things to all people? What needs are we meeting that no other organisation meets?

There’s no doubt that there’s a need for increased efficiency in the non-profit sector. With more than 900 registered charities and more than 400 active ones in a place as small as Bermuda, it’s clear there’s room for streamlining.

But collapsing necessary roles into one position isn’t the route to sustainable success.

It’s a recipe for creating a revolving door for staff and being caught in perpetual start-up mode.

Bermuda needs viable, sustainable charities. It is possible to create organisations such as this, but not by throwing everything but the kitchen sink at one poor well-meaning soul.

Sincerely, BDD, Paget