The operations manager of a nonprofit organization plays a pivotal role, facilitating efficiency and direction in its financial control, human capital, external relations and programmatic and overall strategy. Depending on the organization’s size, the operations manager may be a member of a team, or he may be part of senior management with decision-making capacity for some or all of those functions.
Synthesizes Big Picture and Details
The operations manager must take a generalist view of all of the organization’s activities. While he maintains a strong sense of the larger picture, he also must make sure that no details fall through the cracks. The manager may be responsible for regular collection and study of departmental reports and convening individual and group staff meetings.
Keeps Finances on Track
Financial control and budgeting are often among the operations manager’s chief functions. Accurate and transparent record keeping and reporting are essential to the nonprofit's existence and its relationship with its constituents and donors, as well as federal and state agencies that allow it to function under its tax-exempt status. The operations manager may do hands-on bookkeeping, budgeting and payroll, or he may supervise those functions, review reports and prepare forecasts based on the data that is produced.
Ensures an Effective Team
Thoughtful, careful management of human resources helps ensure that the organization has good employee retention and avoids litigation from staff members that may need to be terminated. The operations manager usually will have a hand in the design, implementation and oversight of hiring practices, employee benefits, staff development and employee manuals, as well as appropriate rules for contracting freelance personnel.
Tracks Program Performance
While actual program services are managed and delivered by professionals who are experts in their field -- such as social workers, legal aid attorneys -- the operations manager often shares responsibility for data collection on numbers of persons served, hours of service provided and other performance indicators. The operations manager must stay in the know on how well the organization is living up to its mission.
Helps Build Strong Relationships
While the chief executive officer is usually the public face of the organization, the operations manager also may play a part in board development, fundraising, public speaking and media relations. At the very least, the operations manager’s goal is to free up the chief executive’s time to focus on external forces and challenges.
Navigates Internal and External Changes
Challenges and opportunities facing an organization change over time. In partnership with the chief executive and staff, the operations manager frequently is charged with strategic planning -- gathering information, brainstorming with staff and board members and ultimately developing and implementing a road map for the organization’s future. Citing the title of Michael Seltzer’s 1987 work, “Securing Your Organization’s Future,” the operations manager is the lynchpin in making sure that happens.
Relevant Skills and Experience
Based on the operations manager’s seniority, the position may require anywhere from three to 10 years of experience, with at least some of that time in the nonprofit sector. Given priorities placed on any aspect of his job, he may require specialized education and certification. For instance, an operations manager focused primarily on finance may need to be a certified public accountant; one who has broader focus would need to have had training in the strategic planning process.
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