The Problem with “Busy”

If this image could represent your brain, you may have a busy problem

Image by Daniel Morris via Flickr

We have a great infatuation with busyness in western culture.  Calling someone “busy” is one of the highest complements we pay (If you want something done, ask a busy person);  it’s also a rock solid excuse for saying no to things you don’t want to do. (Oh, I’d love to help you but I’m just so busy!) In fact, “Busy” is such a popular state, it has replaced “fine” as the standard response to the question “How are you?”

I’m Not Saying Busyness is All Bad

It provides a great adreniline rush. It is incredibly satisfying to look back on a full day and feel  like you’ve really earned your TV or rest-time.   Then there is that deep sense of satisfaction that comes from a completed to-do list.

It’s no wonder so many of us are addicted to the rush of too much to do in too little time. Continue reading

In Social Media, Perfect is the Enemy of the Good

Tropical Hinchinbrook Island from Cardwell, no...

A lovely example of somewhere I did not go this week

Some of you may have noticed this post is late.

It’s not because I’ve been vacationing on a tropical island. In fact, I spend more time on this week’s blog post than I have in quite some time.

The idea was a good one– Why blogging is awesome and more nonprofits should do it.

I’ve never written about blogging here so it’s definitely not an over-done topic, and it’s useful because blogs are an under-utilized resource for most nonprofits*.

Should have been a slam-dunk.

And yet, after 16 or so hours of writing, rewriting and maybe a bit of pouting, I still didn’t have anything worth publishing.

For reasons that are not yet clear to me this seemingly easy post was just NOT. GOING. TO. HAPPEN. Continue reading

Take the Snow Day

Snow bank with mailbox showing in south Grand ...

Even grownups need to play in the snow sometimes

Almost every business and school in the city of Dayton is closed today.  In fact, based on the size of this storm, I’m guessing businesses and schools in wide swaths of the country are closed today.

There was a time when weather like this meant we all took a break.  It was impossible to get to work, the kids had nowhere to go, and so we all stayed home and enjoyed an unexpected holiday.

Of course, thanks to the internet, lots of us no longer have to leave our homes to be productive.  When you can do almost as much from your desk at home as you can from the office, the grown-up choice seems to be to carry on as usual.

But what if you didn’t? Continue reading

3 Simple Ways to Reclaim December

Christmas lights on Aleksanterinkatu.

Image via Wikipedia

December has a secret power.  It’s the only month of the year where you get to feel insanely busy for 31 days and then, at the end,  look back and feel like you accomplished nothing.  Isn’t that fun?

While there is little to do about the “insanely busy” part, making time for these three  activities in December will help you prepare for an amazing January. Continue reading

In Defense of Free

Pamela Grow is on a mission to eradicate the “free” mindset from nonprofits everywhere.

She has a point. Nonprofits are notoriously stingy frugal.  Because of this mindset, many nonprofit organizations do all sorts of silly things, in the name of saving a buck.

The problem is, in order to make her point, Pamela only tells half the story.  While it’s sometimes true that “you get what you pay for,”  it’s also true that “some of the best things in life are free.”  The trick for nonprofits (as well as individuals and small businesses) is to judge each free solution on its own merits and in relation to specific situations.

Free is Perfect When. . .

you are experimenting

Finding time to experiment with new ideas and tools is hard enough, why make it harder by having to find the money too?

Give yourself permission to play with the free version, consider what might be possible,  and then, after you’ve built a business case for moving forward, consider upgrading to a more robust, paid version.

you have more time than money

Every nonprofit claims to have no money.  In the case of brand-new or tiny organizations, sometimes it’s actually true.   If that’s where you are, spending extra time to make free solutions work makes sense.

That having been said, “no money” is a place to start, not a place to stay.  Focus your time on building your capacity to join the ranks of nonprofit organizations that just say they have no money.

the free option meets your needs

If you find a free product that meets your organization’s needs, there is no reason to trade up just because everyone else is doing it.

If you are relatively computer savvy and/or never use the the most specialized features of your office suite, there is no need to buy the latest version of Microsoft Office or suffer through using software 10 years past its sell-by date.  Open Office does everything you need to do.

If you send an e-newsletter to 300 people once per month, and have no need to expand that part of your marketing efforts, you don’t need an e-mail service with all the bells and whistles.  Vertical Response and Mail Chimp have  free options that will work perfectly for you.  Just be ready to upgrade to a paid service as soon as the free option starts to hold you back.

Free is a problem when. . .

you  spend your savings  in staff/volunteer time

Paying someone to fight with a free solution may seem more cost effective than buying something better suited to your needs, but it usually isn’t. When evaluating the cost of “free” it’s essential to calculate time and money spent, as well as opportunity cost.  Often the free, but difficult, solution costs your organization more than paying for something that just works.

This problem is not solved by having volunteers do the fighting.  Volunteer time may not have the budget impact of staff time, but it is a limited resource.  You don’t want to waste it, and you don’t want volunteers to have a bad experience with your organization.  Unless you have someone who genuinely enjoys the challenge of the fight, asking a volunteer to do something you’ wouldn’t ask a staff  member to do is a bad call.

free limits your future options

Even if the free version meets your needs right now, be sure to consider what will happen when you grow.  If your current free solution makes it easy to move to a paid solution when the time comes, it makes sense to use the free version while it’s working for you.

On the other hand, if there is no way to get your information/work out of the free product and into the paid product of your choice, run away.  Either pay for something that gives you more flexibility, or look for a better free option.

the free version is crap

Not all free solutions are equal.  Thanks to the Open Source software movement there are a lot of excellent, free tools for almost anything you can do on a computer.  There are also all kinds of free programs that run the gambit from pointless to actively malicious.  If your organization has no one to help determine which is which, choosing a free option can be tricky.

Free services can also be crap.  If someone offers to build you a  free website, and six weeks later you still don’t have anything, free was not a good deal.  If “free” means you have no control over content, the speed at which things get done, or if it makes you hesitant to ask for changes, the solution is not really free.

Your turn

What free resources do you love?

Which tools get a line in your budget, no matter how tight things get?

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