Thursday, April 07, 2005

Time is money.....but time is also time

One trend I keep seeing everywhere is a downturn in attendance at live training. Whether I am speaking for a foundation, an MSO, a United Way, or a state or national association, everyone uniformly notes that attendance is steadily dropping. In some cities, attendance for a particular group may be up as they roll out new training, but in general, numbers per session are falling.

Why? The understanding of the need for consistent renewal and life-long learning is certainly higher than 10 years ago. So why would attendance drop? I think its a combination of three things.

First, competition. Over the last few years there has been an explosion of training opportunities for nonprofit staff and management. Thus there are more choices for live training than ever before, and since nonprofits only have so much time and so much money, attendance is spread over more days of training and thus numbers are down. The other part of this is that nonprofits have more options. There are hundreds of great books written specifically for nonprofits, and an ever increasing set of good online training to use.

Second, money. While training continues to be a priority for many nonprofits, the choice between cutting training for all the staff and cutting a social worker or a teacher is pretty much a slam-dunk for most organizations. With funds tight, particularly for those organizations who are dependent on state revenue, training goes, unless it is supported by a specific grant.

Third, time. I think that this is the 800 pound gorilla in everyone's organization. It's my observation (only anecdotal, not statistical) that about 10 years ago, most nonprofit managers had, say 1.5 to 1.7 FTE living inside their bodies, whereas now it's up to 2.4 to 2.7 FTE. Put simply, there are less people to do more work. This is a result of not only budget cuts, but more commonly an effort to wring those "evil" administrative costs out of the system. Our organizations are flatter, but that means that people have more work to do---and thus less time to take off for training.

Example: I do a lot of standup training for NISH, a national nonprofit that helps local nonprofits that work with people with disabilities get contracts with the federal government and thus employ people with disabilities in competitive jobs. NISH has a fabulous training program, with hundreds of live training sessions every year on a wide range of topics. Numbers for live training have been steadily down over the past 4 years, even with the best evaluation ratings ever. So what's the cause? Well, the training is free to attend, and if you are affiliated with NISH, your travel costs are often reimbursed. Thus, the reduction in attendance is not about it's not the money. Second, since this training is targeted to this very focused set of nonprofits, there is not a whole lot of competition. So it's not that.

Has to be the time available.

This is worrisome on a lot of levels. First, it means that less training is getting into organizations, it's bad for mission and the people we serve. Second, one of the things that good staff want is to grow in their jobs. No training, less job satisfaction, more turnover. Third, this is a very good indicator of what I hear all the time: we're burning out our staff. In a survey in 2003, it was found that 40% of our E.D.'s would never take an ED job again, ever.

The pursuit of lower overhead is good, but I think that, overall, we've gone to far looking at this as the key indicator of good management. As I tell funders, potential donors, and reporters all the time, there is no direct cost that doesn't have an indirect cost with it. Take Finance 101 and you'll learn that.

Stop trying to punish nonprofits for having admin costs....you're really punishing the people we serve.

3 comments:

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