To truly measure your results, allocate staff time to programs

What is the biggest expense for associations and nonprofits?  Salaries.  The product these businesses deliver is service, and service comes from people.  Yet I have seen many organizations over the years that evaluated the success of their programs without accounting for the most expensive component.

If you were an auto manufacturer, would you have a budget line item for “steel,” without indicating what percentage of it went into cars or trucks, chassis or fenders,  Europe or North America?

I understand why association executives fear this approach.  They have a handful of profit centers – membership, advertising/sponsorships and donations, for example – and dozens of cost centers.  They dread the prospect of board members scanning a column with three rows of black numbers and 20 rows of red and asking, “Why are we ‘losing’ money here?”

Instituting and enforcing time sheets will not endear you to the staff, either.

“I’m too busy,” they’ll say, and ”I do too many different things to be able to classify them.” That’s hogwash, as anyone who works at a professional firm will tell you.  Attorneys, CPAs and public relations people keep track of their time in 15 minute increments.

You don’t need to be that precise.  Most employees will probably work on only a handful of discrete projects on any given day.  A rough estimate will probably suffice.  Bonus:  Without using time sheets as a club (unless you need to), filling them out will make your staff much more aware of how much time they spend at the virtual water cooler.  Oh, and did I mention you need to do it, too?

Keeping track of your time is like lifting weights:  The more you do it, the better you get.

You might also discover that you legitimately can allocate more time by administrative staff, like bookkeepers, receptionists and HR people, into programs.  This is more important to public charities than to trade associations, since donors favor nonprofits with a low percentage of their expenses attributed to administration.

Over time, better time allocations will help you measure changes in your products (services).  Is it more cost effective to purchase clip art for your newsletter or have an employee creating custom images?  Did that change in territories reduce travel time as you’d expected?  Was it better to have an entry-level employee spending more time on the project or a higher-paid employee doing it more efficiently?

The aggravation of explaining, implementing, allocating and enforcing time sheet use will pay off in the long run.

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