Admin Support: The Secret Sauce of a Thriving Nonprofit

by Joan Garry

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Picture this: you’re an executive coach, and you’ve just been hired to work with a nonprofit organization. You’re reviewing the org chart, and everything looks good until you get to the Program Department…

There are 20 people in the department… and only one person dedicated to administrative support!

What might you hear from your client? I’ll give you some options:

a) “No flag here for me. That’s how it works today. With all the new tech, everyone can handle their own scheduling and email.”

b) “My board members are largely from the private sector, and they talk about having their own assistant. And they tell me they know that’s not how it works at nonprofits.”

c) “I presented a budget to my board with additional admin support, and it was the first thing cut when the board saw the increase in expenses that accompanied it.”

d) “I know my staff needs more support, but I really need to keep overhead low so I only hire program folks because that is what funders cover.”

e) “We are all terribly overworked because we spend too much time on admin support and not enough time being successful at the job we were hired to do. I actually think it leads to burnout and attrition, but I’m stuck because of attitudes (a) through (d).”

It’s a common problem in the nonprofit world. And one organization I worked with found out the hard way just how much it was affecting their staff. We conducted a time study of the senior team, and the results were gobsmacking.

They were spending TONS of time on administrative work! And not nearly enough time using their talents and skills to advance the organization’s mission. They were burning out, and it was affecting the entire team.

The organization was part skeptical and part panicked when they learned the results: “Do I need to justify my position? My worth? Are we getting downsized?”

But the answer was strikingly clear: they urgently needed to invest in more administrative support. 

Slowly but surely, every team member was set up to succeed. It was a small change, but it made a big difference. And that’s the power of investing in your staff and ensuring they have the support they need to THRIVE.


Not to worry, it won’t cost you a lot of money to make this pitch. You can start with a book.

A few weeks ago, my business partner and I read a book called Buy Back Your Time by Dan Martell. Like most business books, the premise is simple. But unlike most business books, this one has key strategies that could literally be game-changers for you as you think about how to build your team and allow your team to operate at their best and highest.

Dan’s math works like this: take your annual salary and divide it by 2,000 hours (a rough estimate of the number of hours you work per year). That number is how much an hour of your time is worth.

Your goal is to make sure that in as many hours as possible, you are engaged in work that is worthy of that per-hour fee. I guarantee you that you’ll think about this and realize very quickly that many of the activities you engage in are not worth that amount per hour.

OK, got it. Now what, Joan?

Well, don’t ask me. Let’s see what Dan says. Dan says if you can hire someone to do those tasks for 25% of your per-hour fee, you should do it all day, every day.


Because you are essentially buying back your time. You are paying folks to do the lower-value tasks so that you can spend your time on the higher-value tasks. To do the genius work your board wants you to do, your clients want you to do, your community wants you to do.

AND let’s not forget. When folks do higher value work, guess what? They feel more valued, more energized. They have more impact, and they can see it. And you can draw a straight line from that to retention. Easily.


I see it all the time. The way we talk about something, the messaging we use, makes all the difference.

Lots of times, E.D.s go to their boards and announce that they are drowning in low-level tasks. Boards hear this, especially when they wonder why X is not done or has not moved forward. Then E.D.s add this. “I don’t have time to do all the things on my plate; how can I add more?” Boards hear this as whining.

How about reframing?

Show them the data. If I bought back this amount of hours in a month, here are the projects or initiatives I could take on. And, oh, by the way, you all pay me too much to do the kind of tasks highlighted here.

It’s time to reframe from “I don’t have time” to “Look what would be possible for me to do if I outsourced/hired a part-timer.”

There is a huge difference in how each of these lands — with finance committees and boards at large.

You have to give it a try. You are (and this is a bizarre thing to say in the nonprofit space) very likely being overpaid for more than half the tasks you do each week.

I’ve been paying a lot of attention to how I spend my time; in fact, I did a time study for two weeks and highlighted in red those tasks that could be outsourced to a part-time admin or that I could outsource for 25% of how I might calculate my own effective hourly rate.

It was illuminating, and I encourage you to try it too.

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