I never thought I’d get such prudent advice from a restaurant with a PlayPlace. I thought McDonald’s became big because of their cheap burgers, but it was actually their business model that made them the superchain they are today. In Michael Gerber’s book The E-Myth, he talks about how McDonald’s revolutionized the business world. They made themselves a franchise—they systematized their operations so that anyone could buy the rights to the restaurant and run it the same way. McDonald’s standardized their policies and their equipment, and they defined the role of every employee and operation at the restaurant. You didn’t need business experience to start one. You just had to buy the rights to the franchise, and they would give you a handbook on how to run it.
I think nonprofits can benefit from how franchises document their systems. A pitfall I’ve seen at agencies we’ve worked with is that they depend too much on people and not enough on systems. Don’t get me wrong, people are great and are the lifeblood of your nonprofit. But if you completely rely on wildly talented directors or staff, when they leave, your nonprofit can be left in turmoil. Nobody knows what that person was doing at the organization or how they did it. How is the replacement to be trained?
Sustainable nonprofits have systems in place. I know. Groan. Nobody wants to document how things are done. But by having procedures recorded and outlined in manuals, it will be simple to teach new staff or volunteers coming in. This leads to consistency in how things are done, and it will mean a lot less stress on the organization as a whole. Say a staff member leaves suddenly. You’ll have enough to worry about with hiring. If you have a manual for that person’s position, hiring and training will be a lot easier.
People will leave your organization, but transitions will be less chaotic if your nonprofit is documented as a system, rather than just relying on talented people. People are the soul of your mission, but systems are the body. Having system documentation will make your nonprofit more vibrant and sustainable.
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