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Making sure you have the right tools

There is a new Tappan Zee Bridge about to be built spanning a New York waterway. The crane that could enable the bridge to be built was far off, across the country in San Francisco. It took six weeks, expert logistical tactics and the “Left Coast Lifter” made its way the 6000 miles it needed to travel to arrive at the worksite. No one dreamed of making do without the “Left Coast Lifter.” It was quite clear this was the crane needed for the job.

All too often, in nonprofit operations, what is needed for the job is not supplied. The term non-profit should not mean shoe-string anything-will-do mindset. To do the job properly, one must have the right tools. To get the right tools, one must ensure logistics are in place.

Basic tools any office needs are furniture, computer hardware and software, copiers, printers, and a top-notch phone system. Not all nonprofits are funded right away to be able to have the appropriate start-up costs. That is when donations of the right tools and supplies need to be solicited. http://www.csr-eco-solutions.com/ is the place where companies wanting to divest themselves of unwanted furniture and equipment can be matched with organizations needing it. In New York City, a special program called WasteMatch does the same locally. Those are only two of the many programs that exist to help nonprofits outfit their offices with hand-me-downs.

After the basic tools are in place, a nonprofit can begin operations. Yet, as time goes on, it becomes usually quite clear that more advanced tools will be needed depending on the programs and services offered. Accounting software, donation management tools, and graphic design programs are just some of the common ones usually needed. More specialized programs are needed based on the program: classroom management tools for preschools, caseworker automation for social service agencies, meal count software for soup kitchens to name a few. An organization dedicated to matching nonprofits with technology tool is http://www.techsoup.org/. Some of the large software companies also contribute generously by giving free product to eligible nonprofits.

Back office tools should not be the only focus. Ensuring the right tools at every level of the program is important. Does your soup kitchen have the right pots and serving containers? The right cleaning supplies? Does your preschool have the right first-aid supplies and security system? Does your senior center have the adaptive tools to make a walk in the hallway that much easier for a frail client?

No matter how established a non-profit might already be, within the budget, there should always be a line item dedicated to equipment and tools, for as time goes on and needs are reassessed most nonprofits will find the need to purchase updated tools or replace nonfunctioning ones. There should also be a working group that meets at least twice annually to assess whether or not the organization is equipped with the tools and supplies it needs to operate most efficiently. If the assessment finds a lack, it is time for some logistical tactics of bringing the right tools in, no matter how far it might have to travel.