According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are more than 1.5 million nonprofit and charity-based organizations in the United States. That is a lot of people working hard for less money than they could earn in the private sector, just for trying to create some positive change in the world and help others in need. But it also means that there are at least one million organizations out there in America who are renting offices, paying for telecommunications support and Internet services, and even paying janitors to clean their offices, all when they really don’t need to. The concept of the traditional office is an outdated one. Much of the work of even fairly conservative nonprofits can be accomplished just as easily when nonprofit professionals are working from home, meeting at a central location, or working in the field. In fact, a virtual office may offer a nonprofit or charity organization enough benefits that they can spend more time working in the field with clients and less time at a desk working through the details of infrastructure and intake. Let’s look at some of the ways a nonprofit organization might utilize the features of a virtual office and then examine a rough timeline that demonstrates how a nonprofit might be able to pull the plug on their traditional office model.
Answering the phones. This one seems easy, right? For client-based nonprofits, simply answering the phone is an essential function of intake. For less traditional nonprofit organizations, this task is usually doled out to secretaries, volunteers, or the occasional intern. The fact of the matter is that answering the phone is often a thankless task, and it’s one that can easily be shifted to a virtual assistant who can politely greet the caller, take down personal details and contact information, or transfer the caller directly to the person they need to speak with.
Meetings. Unless your nonprofit organization is a direct service-to-client model where clients must come to a brick-and-mortar location to receive services, a virtual office may serve your needs just fine. Why make clients go through the hassle of lining up transportation and coming to your office when you can secure vehicles to come to them? And if you need to meet with officials from a foundation or a corporation that wishes to help further your needs, look no further than a virtual meeting room. Instead of wasting hard-earned dollars on space you’re not using, a virtual meeting room enables your nonprofit to only pay for real estate when you are using it.
Finally, here’s a rough timeline on how to ditch the office and move to a virtual model instead.
- Engage employees in planning. Not all employees have the means or technology to work virtually and not all employees have the desire to move to a non-traditional work style. Engage your employees and clients to see if a virtual model will work for your organization.
- Review the books. Assess how much money the organization can save by moving to a virtual model. Not only will the board of directors want to know this information, but it can come in handy in approaching foundations about funds to pay for your shift to virtual operations.
- Plan a “home day.” Simply giving employees one day a week for a month to work from home, a coffee shop, or other virtual location will quickly demonstrate both the benefits and challenges of working virtually.
- Plan a “home week.” This is essentially the same experiment as a home day but the longer timeline will help assess the attitudes and operational mechanics involved in moving to a virtual workspace.
- Plan the office exit. It will take quite a bit of time to lease or sell your nonprofit’s office space, shift from office-based equipment to a virtual model, and engage the technology support you’ll need to operate virtually.