Home Renovation and Nonprofits: More Alike Than You Might Think

| by Staci Barfield

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a fascination with restoring and renovating properties. The older and more rundown, the better. My current house is the fifth property I have basically taken apart and put back together. Whether tearing down or adding walls, laying tile, refinishing hardwoods, painting, or giving attention to the details, I find the process of realizing an older home’s inherent beauty cathartic.

I recently started thinking about the parallels between the projects I undertake at home and the projects we at Armstrong McGuire work on with our nonprofit partners. The comparisons were easy.

  • My first question when evaluating a potential renovation project is always the same: Is the foundation solid? As the saying goes, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.” There’s no point in making a home pretty if it’s going to fall down around you.

    The same goes for nonprofits. If an organization does not have sound management, financial, and programmatic practices, these need to be addressed before undertaking other efforts. And the most important foundational component of all? Your people, of course!

  •  In a renovation project, the right tools make all the difference. I own seven different types of power saws because each one serves a different purpose. It just would not make sense to rip a sheet of plywood with a miter saw.

    Asking nonprofit staff to work with the wrong tools isn’t smart either. Investing in current hardware and software has a huge impact on staff productivity, making it that much easier to support your mission. Skimping on tools is a surefire way to ensure projects take more time and energy than necessary.
  • I often get asked how I know how to do the things I do when renovating. As it turns out, I’ve cobbled together a fair amount of knowledge related to construction and design in the usual ways we learn things: through a mentor, by taking classes, watching videos, reading books and articles, and searching the web. Once, after removing a very large, old school, ribbon glass, pulley-weighted window from a historic house, I stopped for an hour – while there was a huge hole in the exterior wall – to watch a YouTube video on how to repair the sill and re-install the window.

    The lesson? We can all learn. Be willing to invest in your team. Even though someone doesn’t have a specific skill doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of developing it. Give your team access to coaching and training, encourage resourcefulness, and allow for setbacks. You might be surprised at how talented your team members are, given the right opportunities
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  • Have you heard that construction projections always take twice as long as planned? In my renovation experience, that’s usually the case. I’m always surprised at what I uncover along the way and have learned to expected the unexpected. While in demo mode on a historic home restoration, I pulled back a shoddily installed piece of drywall to find a large snake curled up inside the wall. Fortunately, he was as startled as I was, but that experience reinforced that I needed to be prepared for just about anything.

    The same holds true for your organization. We often find that nonprofits have plans in place for best case situations, but not worst case. What happens if you are unable to replenish reserves after utilizing the funds? How will you deliver traditionally in-person services if gathering in person is not an option? What’s your risk mitigation plan? Do you have a crisis communications strategy? What is your decision-making process when encountering unforeseen situations? Having contingency plans and emergency response processes in place before you need them can allay stress and lessen downtime when the unexpected occurs.

  • I am a total do-it-yourselfer, but I know my limitations. If there is the potential to flood or burn down the house, I pass it off to a plumbing or electrical professional. It is worth every penny spent to know that all my hard work won’t be wasted.

    With tight budgets, it is common for nonprofits to shy away from investing in help “from the outside.” However, the perspective and experience brought by professionals in specific areas can be a game-changer. Outsourcing and utilizing consultants allows you to address immediate needs without making longer-term investments.
  • Even after all the initial renovations are done, there are plenty more “second-round” projects waiting to be tackled. This is especially true for the houses I’ve lived in, manifesting in walls being painted a new color, fixture upgrades, and much much more. Renovation is truly a cyclical process because homes age, styles change, and there is always something new to try.

    The best and most successful organizations – both for-profit and nonprofit – are those that function in a mode of continuous improvement. The world changes daily and it is in the best interests of the nonprofit, its staff, donors, volunteers, and the community it serves, to try to be better every day.

Nonprofits and renovations…who knew there were so many parallels? I guess now I understand why I love them both!

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