Successful Nonprofits: Creating a Strong Back Office with Sean Hale

The investment necessary for your nonprofit to succeed

Creating a Strong Back Office with Sean Hale

The investment necessary for your nonprofit to succeed

Creating a Strong Back Office with Sean Hale

by GoldenburgGroup

Running a nonprofit is stressful. There’s managing staff, courting donors, keeping up with reports and, of course, providing actual services. We often forget to invest the time and money necessary to support the organization’s infrastructure. 

Sean Hale excels at building and strengthening a nonprofit’s back office. Sean knows that a strong back office helps the whole organization work smarter and harder. Listen in for tips to find savings, increase efficiency and put your nonprofit on a path to long-term success.

Listen to the Episode Here!


Website: Sean Hale Consulting

Webinar: Beyond Belt Tightening

Website: Loom

Website: Divvy

Blog: 5 Ways Cyber Criminals Can Attack Your Organization


(2:33) Defining the “back office”

(5:25) Investing in technology

(11:05) Investing in managing human resources

(17:20) Finding savings and efficiency

(21:30) Two stories about working more efficiently

(26:23) Software and apps that can increase your efficiency

(34:23) The importance of inertia


Dolph Goldenburg (00:00):

Welcome to the Successful Nonprofits® Podcast. I’m your host, Dolph Goldenburg. And today we are going to be having a conversation with Sean Hale about back offices and doing more than just tightening your belt to become more efficient and save some money. Before we have that conversation, I genuinely believe that 2021 will be a very different year from this year. In many ways, I think it’s going to be a much harder year. We may not see the same level of government stimulus that we saw this year. Probably won’t see an across the board PPPP loan that anyone can apply for. I think there are many reasons why this is probably going to be a tougher year next year. And that is why I am launching a group coaching program for chief executives starting in January. It is a curriculum based program with13 bi-weekly sessions that are designed to help you and your organization thrive tough times. If you’re interested, head on over to and check it out.

Dolph Goldenburg (01:13):

As I said, today we’re going to be talking about back offices. And Sean Hale is the perfect person to come in and have this conversation. He is an Austin-based consultant. He’s been a COO. He’s been a CFO. Today he does a ton of back office consulting, specifically in areas like finance, HR, technology, operations and all the things that so often we don’t spend enough time and energy thinking about and working on. And let me also share with you, he is an efficiency guru. If you spend just a few minutes on his blog,, you will see that he understands efficiency. And he’s an incredible trainer, as well. What sparked my interest in bringing him onto the podcast is his great series of posts called Beyond Belt Tightening. So we’re going to have a conversation about that as well as the importance of the back office. Hey, Sean, welcome to the podcast.

Sean Hale (02:24):

Dolph, thank you so much for having me on. It’s just a real honor to get to talk to you and to be in the presence, virtually, of all the other great guests you’ve had on the podcast over the years.

Dolph Goldenburg (02:33):

Well, thank you. I am always excited and thrilled that we get incredible guests, people like you, who give up an hour of their week to really share some important things with our listeners. So thank you. And I thought we might start by just talking about the importance of the back office for a nonprofit.

Sean Hale (02:51):

Well, thank you. Yeah, it’s an area that I’ve been working in for more than 20 years now and just really developed a passion for it. I’ve gotten to wear all the hats over my career, but that’s the area where I really feel like I can add the most value. It’s not the glamorous part of the nonprofit. We don’t usually get to interact directly with the people that are getting served by the nonprofit. But for me, it just brings so much satisfaction to know that everything behind the scenes is running smoothly because, in my experience, behind every successful nonprofit, you’re going to find a strong back office. And when the program staff and the fundraising staff can really focus on their jobs, that’s when the organization is successful. And you need a strong back office holding things together to make that happen.

Dolph Goldenburg (03:36):

So we’re clear and our listeners have a sense of what we’re talking about when we’re saying back office, what are some of the functions that you think about as being critical to a back office?

Sean Hale (03:45):

Yes. Thank you for asking that clarifying question. There are a bunch of ways to define it. The IRS has a definition, so I’ll go with that. You can split a whole nonprofit up into three areas: programs, fundraising and administration. The administration aspect is synonymous with back office. Granted, all those areas, in a healthy nonprofit, are going to have a whole lot of overlap. You’re not going to have siloed anything. But the back office is going to be finances, human resources, technology, facilities and the thousand other details like compliance and reporting. When the back office takes all of that on, then the program people can serve clients, the executive director can focus on the big picture, and fundraising can focus on development.

Sean Hale (04:35):

Those folks are not worried about the lights coming on, getting paid on time, computer problems, internet outages or the thousand other little distractions that can really add up to death by a thousand cuts for so many, otherwise, really great nonprofits. And that’s why it’s important to spend some time making sure that your back office is running smoothly. Because back office is less like a paperweight and more like a car. It requires maintenance. And if you treat the back office like a paperweight and you just set it in the corner and forget it, you can be pretty sure that there’s going to be problems just like when you don’t put gas in your car or get regular oil changes.

Dolph Goldenburg (05:25):

I loved your metaphor of saying, “Let’s look at the functional expenses on your 990.” While there’s some overlap, it’s one of those management functions. Are there areas that you think nonprofits are under investing in on average? And so, as an example, are they under investing more in technology than HR or vice versa?

Sean Hale (05:45):

You and I went back and forth on LinkedIn last week about our old frenemy, the overhead myth. And that really has most nonprofits thinking that overhead really can’t even be 10% of the overall expenses and really needs to be less. The result is that, in so many nonprofits, they under invest in everything. If I had to pick just one area where you can get the most bang for your buck and where I think is probably the most neglected of all the things that need attention, it would be technology. So much really good technology has come online, even in the last 12 to 24 months, that is transformative for nonprofits in terms of being productive and efficient. Technology is one of those things that’s going to give you efficiency. It’s going to give your back office and your front of house staff time so they can take the next bite and the next bite and the next bite. So it’s one of those investments that’s going to pay for itself more often than not.

Dolph Goldenburg (06:42):

There’s also tremendous risk if organizations are not managing their technology well. There are so many different ways that scammers are trying to cheat nonprofits. But one of the biggest is actually getting inside your network, taking over your network and holding a ransom.

Sean Hale (07:07):

Yeah. That’s a really big one. And most nonprofits, especially the small and medium sized ones, don’t even know what they don’t know. It’s a challenge. This is not active neglect or indifference on behalf of leadership. Most nonprofits have a tough job and they’re trying to do a thousand things, and that was before the pandemic. But certainly the ransomware is a huge problem. These are emails a staff member falls for because they think it’s the executive director writing them to go get some Amazon gift cards. Then the staff member uses the company card, because they don’t have good controls, and all of a sudden the organization is out money, whether it’s $500 or $5,000. Or they’ve let a hacker into their bank because there aren’t proper safeguards and controls in place.

Dolph Goldenburg (07:54):

And I’ll share with you that scam is especially common with nonprofits right now. I actually stepped into an organization where a member of the management team, someone with three decades or more of professional experience, fell for that scam. But they actually used their own personal credit card. And now the organization was in this really awkward spot of having to decide whether or not to reimburse this person. It was a really bad situation for this organization.

Sean Hale (08:37):

Yeah. It’s one of those situations you don’t want to be in. That’s why you have the protection. That’s why you take your umbrella with you if there’s a cloudy sky. It’s just good prevention to make sure you’re on top of that. And every so often nonprofits should be checking in so they stay on top of that and make sure they aren’t vulnerable. Or if there isn’t time to do so in-house, then how are you bringing in somebody who has the necessary levels of expertise to help you? There are vulnerabilities that are just so obvious to so many hackers these days. And what was good protection two years ago could look like a big open barn door today.

Dolph Goldenburg (09:15):

And as long as we’re talking about scams, there’s one going around for the last two or three years called the phony donor scam. Essentially what happens is a large gift for your organization comes through on the website, for example, a $5,500 gift. 10 minutes later, an email comes through going, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry. I meant to only give $500, not $5,500. Will you please refund $5,000 but to this other card?” The development director goes and talks to the CFO. They want to keep this brand new donor who they know nothing about happy. They process $5,000 on the other card. And three days later the merchant account comes back and says, “Sorry, that was not a legitimate credit card.” And so now you’re out $5,500.

Sean Hale (10:12):

It’s a beautiful scam. And that’s the tricky thing with nonprofits: there is so much goodwill and trust. And you don’t want to let go of that. If you lose the goodwill and trust you lose the whole spirit of the whole thing. But at the same time, you have to walk this tightrope of having the appropriate levels of caution. And especially remember that when something is just a little bit fishy, tap the brakes and take it slowly. I have been present for a couple of similar scams where fortunately we recognized it for what it was early. Once it took me a while to convince the executive director that it was definitely a scam and I could confirm it in 15 different ways. Because you want to believe and you want to have goodwill. And that’s great, but it’s trust-but-verify with those things.

Dolph Goldenburg (11:05):

Right. As I think about the hierarchy, I feel like the next area where organizations are not necessarily often investing enough as HR.

Sean Hale (11:13):

True. Everybody’s been working from home for six months now. And if you’re not feeling the HR strains, they’re definitely there and that can create some ripple effects. This is the time, if you haven’t already to bring in somebody with that expertise, at least for a checkup. Nonprofits often don’t bring in professional HR and staff until they get up to something like $4 million or 50 employees. There’s the assumption that the bookkeeper is doing a perfectly fine job making sure all the forms are filled out. But there’s more to HR than that. Goodwill with staff and morale are important, too. Staff turnover is one of the most expensive things for an organization. And it’s an invisible expense because you’re not putting a line item in the budget. But it can cost as much as a year’s salary in terms of lost productivity to lose a staff person. And sometimes even more than that. It adds up quickly.

Dolph Goldenburg (12:21):

And that becomes especially painful if you have high attrition. Because if you’re losing people in the same position every 18 months and it costs you a year salary, essentially, it means that he every 18 months, you’re spending two and a half years on salary.

Sean Hale (12:35):

And that’s where a good HR, whether it’s an HR consultant or something else, can really help you clarify what’s going on here. Is this a hiring thing? Are we not hiring the right people? Are we not compensating enough? Is there a culture issue? There can be all sorts of reasons why you’re losing people. Even bad luck. But it’s really hard, even for a doctor, to diagnose yourself. And that’s why bringing in a third party who is not emotionally invested can really help bring some objectivity to what otherwise might be hard for you to see for yourself.

Dolph Goldenburg (13:12):

Some of the big benefits that I think an HR contractor or employee brings are things like making sure there is a structured onboarding process that every employee goes through or some sort of coaching and support for managers. I think those are low hanging fruit. One of the things I see nonprofits do all the time is promote an individual contributor, say a case manager, to a management position. And so now they’re the supervisor of the case management department. But organizations do not provide them the mentoring, coaching and support necessary for them to be good managers. And then the leadership team scratches their head and wonders why this person was so good as the case manager and so bad as a program manager.

Sean Hale (14:09):

That’s so true, Dolph. Because it happens over and over again. And that’s why there’s this rich literature about these common pitfalls for small/medium nonprofits and how to avoid them. The trick, for so many is finding time. You have to find time to sharpen the saw. And if you don’t have time to sharpen the saw yourself, then recognize you need to have somebody else help you. You might be smart enough to pull this off, but you might not have the time to get up to speed and apply these best practices. So have somebody else in and help you do that so you can go home and see your family.

Dolph Goldenburg (14:49):

Right. I would bet one of the things that you see is organizations that have outgrown the individuals working in their back office because they’ve not brought those individuals with them. For example, an organization that has a bookkeeper, who’s a mighty fine bookkeeper. But as the organization grows and it becomes a $3 million or $7 million organization, suddenly they need a lot more than a bookkeeper. But what they have is a bookkeeper because they’ve not brought that person with them.

Sean Hale (15:20):

And sometimes everybody else got promoted to director so they’ll promote the bookkeeper to Director of Finance just because they’ve been here and they’ve paid their dues. That feels good in the heart. But if you want to have a successful nonprofit, you need to handle that in a different way. And it might be that you need to bring in a true director of finance from outside. Or it might be that you train that person up. It depends on the particular circumstances. But if your only criteria for promoting somebody or for hanging onto them is to feel good or avoid having difficult conversations, you’re probably setting yourself up for bigger pain down the road. How will you come back when that person is overwhelmed and frustrated and leaves your organization forever one Friday in tears and never comes back?

Dolph Goldenburg (16:08):

And your funders are frustrated. And your management is frustrated. And your board is frustrated. Because they’re not getting what they need out of that function either.

Sean Hale (16:16):

Exactly. It’s that under investment. And sooner or later it’s going to bite you in the butt. Every organization has a certain threshold that it can get to in terms of flying by the seat of their pants. And usually there’s a link between that and the charisma of the executive director or the founder. So if there’s a lot of charisma, you can fly even higher before you have to put good systems in place. But sooner or later, if you don’t put good systems in place, then you are setting yourself up for a big fall. I love preventing that from happening. It’s not sexy. The news doesn’t report that 20 planes didn’t fall out of the sky today. That’s not news. But that is the result of great mechanics making sure every little screw is tightened just the right amount and that the plane has the right amount of fuel and that all the gauges are functioning exquisitely well. There’s a lot of unsexy, unglamorous work that happened to make sure those planes did not fall out of the sky. But it’s such important work. And that’s what a strong back office does.

Dolph Goldenburg (17:20):

I want to make sure, Sean, we’ve got time to talk about your blog series, Beyond Belt Tightening. I’m sure our listeners would love to hear us talk more about ways back offices are important and ways they could be strengthened, but let’s move forward. What I loved about your blog series is that it’s not necessarily about cutting costs. It’s about becoming more efficient and making better decisions so that you are generating more money or spending less money.

Sean Hale (17:50):

Right. Or being more productive. It’s about working smarter and harder. There are so many traps that we fall into of thinking that, if money’s tight, we’ve got to tighten that belt up a little bit more. Or we think we need to go begging to the richest man in town. And those are perfectly fine things to do. But, so often, the easiest money that we can get is the money that’s already in our pockets and just using it smarter.

Sean Hale (18:36):

Can I engage you in a couple of semi rhetorical questions?

Dolph Goldenburg (18:40):

Oh my gosh, yes.

Sean Hale (18:42):

Okay. So let’s say a good friend gives you a call and says, “Hey, Dolph, I’d like to introduce you to one of our new donors. They’re making a $75,000 gift. It’s going to be paid out over the next five years. And I’m pretty sure they can help you too. Would you like to know more about this guy?”

Dolph Goldenburg (18:57):


Sean Hale (18:57):

Dolph, do you want to know more?

Dolph Goldenburg (18:58):

That’s all right. I’ve got enough.

Sean Hale (19:00):

You’re going to pass? For you listeners who think that Dolph is making a mistake, I’m going to continue to tell the rest of the story. So turns out that Bobby is making gifts to all sorts of nonprofits around town. And Bobby doesn’t care about the issue area. 9 out of 10 of the people who meet with Bobby are getting these major multi-year gifts. And I’ve heard about gifts from $10,000 a year up to $70,000 a year. It’s always multi-year gifts. The gifts are our favorite kind: unrestricted with no strings attached. You don’t have to even report back; Bobby doesn’t want to report from you. You don’t even have to send a thank you note or have a follow-up coffee afterwards. Dolph, are you sure you don’t want to have an introduction to Bobby?

Dolph Goldenburg (19:47):

All right, I’ll take it now.

Sean Hale (19:48):

Okay. I need to let you know, there’s a catch. On the back end, this is easy money with no strings attached. But on the front end, you’re going to probably spend about 10 hours interacting with Bobby. And Bobby is going to ask you some tough questions that you might have to do some homework on. Questions that might make you think about things you’ve never thought about before. They’re tough questions, but they’re fair questions. So you might have to invest 10 hours to get this money.

Sean Hale (20:23):

So that’s the kind of thing we find when we peel back the covers on our back offices. There’s money there. Even if your back office staff have the training and they have the spirit of being frugal, they might not have the time to actually look for and identify those savings because they’re so busy with the day to day. You might be overpaying vendors or you might be wasting time with some of your systems or technology or processes. It might have been going on so long that you just think it’s normal. The truth is that very often we have these pain points that we forget about because we think they are normal and we keep on living with them year after year after year. This summer I worked with three nonprofits and helped one find $13,000 a year in savings. In another I found $15,000 and in another I found $30,000 in savings and efficiencies. And that, over five years, adds up to pretty good return on investment.

Dolph Goldenburg (21:27):

Can you tell us a story about one of those?

Sean Hale (21:30):

Yeah. This story is about finding the right tool for the job. Once upon a time I was helping a nonprofit out. And even though this was definitely into the 21st century they still had a donor database that was definitely built back in the eighties or nineties, definitely DOS-based. And it was not user friendly. You literally needed an engineer to get the donor information out of it. And this organization had just such a retiree. He was a retired engineer and he loved this tool. He loved digging in there and loved the importance of being the only person that could get the reports out of it. And thank goodness that he passed the torch to another retiree a couple of months before he passed away because that could have been a catastrophic loss there.

Sean Hale (22:26):

But there were all kinds of issues with it. All of the major donors knew that there were these issues with the donor database. And the back office was stressed about their inability to pull reports and work with the database. So we got rid of that old database and brought in a basic, good, run of the mill, cloud-based database with real tech support. So if the office people didn’t know how to do something or ran into a problem, they could call up and get training or tech support. And if the office people all won the lottery and went away to Tahiti, the new people could come in and access that training and support, too.

Sean Hale (23:06):

If you’re cheap by nature, then of course you’re going to stick with your database you’ve had forever that only costs $100 a year. Comparatively, it seems like a great deal next to a $2,000 or $3,000 database. But it turns out the dividend is on the back end. Changing to that new database saved the organization money in staff and volunteer time. And, most importantly, it created donor confidence. Donors knew the back office was struggling, and had been for years. So the new database alleviated their worries and they felt confident things were on the path to improvement. And that’s worth investing in. So, ultimately, donors increased their generosity. It’s hard to see that trickle-down effect. We have to change from a cheap mindset to a frugal mindset, where we are strategic and thinking two or three steps out about that trickle-down effect.

Dolph Goldenburg (24:21):

I love that story and I agree there’s so much value there. I think a organizations underutilize value with their technology and their CRM. Once I walked into an organization where their online giving platform did not speak to their CRM. That was not a huge deal for most of the year. But between November 1st and January 15th, we would get dozens to a hundred gifts per day. And the poor person responsible for all that data felt overwhelmed with re-entering it. I suggested they talk to the CRM and find out what platforms integrate with it so they wouldn’t have to manually re-enter everything. Suddenly, this person had a lot of extra time to enjoy the end of the year with their family and could actually spend time thanking donors and not just keying data in.

Sean Hale (25:21):

Yeah. And they probably got away from that cliff of, “I think I’m going to resign next week or maybe today.” So you can cut off that turnover because that’s too much stress for a staff person whether it’s at the holidays or any other time. 20 years ago so many of those tools didn’t sync up. Now they all do. And you shouldn’t expect less.

Dolph Goldenburg (25:43):

And to your point, it took that organization some time to do the research and to implement. And that’s about really all it took because they were paying this other platform as well. So their costs did not change in any significant way.

Sean Hale (25:56):

There are so many things you can change and spend the same amount or even less. But you’re getting back so many staff hours over the course of the year. And, granted, we’re not going to cry over a lost hour during the year. But when it’s an hour a day and you’re paying that person 200 days a year, that’s several weeks of lost productivity that really aren’t adding value to the organization.

Dolph Goldenburg (26:23):

Right. I have one former client who is relatively large with a $14 million budget. So I know this is not a reality for most smaller organizations. But they actually built out Salesforce to be their everything: their CRM, their accounting system, their HR system, literally everything. And so what that meant was, if they were serving a client and there was a cost incurred for that client, it would just seamlessly port over to the accounting software. And then when they needed to generate their reimbursement reports for their funders, they could say, “Yup, client A got this on this date.”

Sean Hale (27:07):

There was an upfront investment, but things became so much stronger on the back end. And that’s creating a lot of confidence in the donors. It’s easy to find people who poopoo Salesforce. When I ask people a little bit more, it turns out that they’ve been treating Salesforce like a paperweight rather than like a puppy. They are not investing in the maintenance and not going into it thinking of it as a powerful tool. If you use it right, it is going to make your organization so much more efficient because you’re just automating everything.

Dolph Goldenburg (27:41):

Right. Another example is Chad Wolver who, started Azul Analysis. And it’s this really cool app that lays over QuickBooks’ desktop version. And so instead of your bookkeeper or director of finance having to sit down and create charts and graphs to share with the CEO or with the board, they can literally punch a few buttons and it creates all those. It probably saves several hours a year.

Sean Hale (28:29):

Oh yeah. And that adds up over the course of the year. I love Azul Analysis. I love what Chad’s doing. And love what’s happening with the technology. If you’re a nonprofit and you’re sick and tired of doing this thing every month, somebody’s probably figured out a way to make a computer do it. It might take a little bit of digging to find the right tool or getting the right advice from the right person, but great tools are coming online and they are now very affordable. So even the small nonprofits can find tools that pay for themselves in months, if not faster.

Dolph Goldenburg (29:05):

I recently discovered the coolest app ever. You’ve probably known about it for years, Sean. Zapier.

Sean Hale (29:13):

Yeah. Everybody should be aware of that. And even if you don’t understand it just go and talk to a tech person and say, “I want my toaster to talk to my microwave. Can’t you Zapier that for me?” Just throw that into a conversation. Because if you have two different tools that aren’t talking to each other, Zapier will help them talk to each other. And that’s what you need to know, I think.

Dolph Goldenburg (29:38):

Exactly. If you want to build a spreadsheet with data that’s coming in on your email, just tell Zapier to do it. And suddenly you got a spreadsheet.

Sean Hale (29:47):

Yeah. I have two favorite tools. They’re both free. One of them is Loom. And it is really cool. I love it for training and also for documenting processes. And those are both things where it’s very hard for us to do those well and consistently. And so let’s say that you run payroll but want someone else to learn how to do it so you can take a vacation. Because a lot of times our back office people can’t go on vacation because payroll has to be run every two weeks. So how is Loom going to help with that? It’s a little app that sits on your computer. And rather than taking 2 days to build a document with all these explanations and weird exceptions and screen shots, you just turn the app on and do payroll. Loom records your screen and captures your voice so you can narrate what you are doing while you are doing it. And when you’re done, hit “stop.” It automatically creates a video on the cloud with a unique URL. So you can email that link to the person who is going to handle payroll while you’re gone. And you’re done and ready to go on vacation.

Dolph Goldenburg (32:06):

I’m definitely going to have to check out Loom. I have used QuickTime to do that. I’m on Mac, so I’m not sure if you can do this on a PC. But with QuickTime you can do a screen recording and audio. I’ve been doing that for a couple of years now so that I don’t have to tell different people how to do the same thing.

Sean Hale (32:45):

Does it spin up a unique URL for you automatically and all that good stuff, too?

Dolph Goldenburg (32:49):

It doesn’t do that. You’ve got to save it. But also have a virtual server. So it gets saved to my virtual server so it’s the same thing.

Sean Hale (32:55):

Okay. I’ll need to check on that. Thank you. The other free app that I really love is called Divvy. The short version is that it’s like a credit card with a receipt bank. So if you’re an executive and you’re like out to lunch, you can use your smartphone to take a photo of the receipt, upload it, and you’re done. You can throw away that paper and forget about it. So the back office can get rid of the shoebox full of receipts and doesn’t have to go chasing down everyone with a credit card for receipts. Divvy also lets you create virtual credit cards. You can also do temporary cards. So you can check out a credit card for the day and put $500 on it that is only good for the day when you send a volunteer to the store. It’s a really cool tool and I keep hearing how people love it. I’m using it myself.

Dolph Goldenburg (34:23):

I have never heard of that. And that is an awesome tool. I’m going to check it out and probably suggest some clients do, too. We are really out of time, but I’ve got to hit at least one more of your blog posts. Let’s talk about inertia.

Sean Hale (35:04):

Oh yeah. That’s a killer, a real killer. And the thing about inertia is that it can happen to any of us. There is always somebody who needs something right now or a fire that needs to be put out. And so we put off a task for a day and then a week and then a month and then we just get used to it. I was having coffee with the executive director of a local nonprofit. And he was telling me about his first day on the job a couple of years back. So he comes in and is getting up to speed on things. And he sees this van out in the parking lot that has busted windows and looks like it hasn’t moved in a while. So he asks about it. And he learns that it belongs to the organization. It hadn’t moved in two years. And they had been paying insurance on it the whole time. Somebody knew that that was just not good. But it took someone coming in with a fresh perspective to say, “No, this is

Dolph Goldenburg (35:08):

Right. And then like sometimes we know like that thing that we’re doing or not doing or whatever like that needs to change, but there’s a bigger fire or there’s somebody in front of me who needs me right now. And so we put off for a day and then a week and then a month and then we just get used to that. And so, um, you know, one of the stories I love telling about that there was, uh, the day before the pandemic hit my family and the kids came home forever. I was having coffee with the executive director of a local nonprofit. And he was me about, uh, his first day on the job a couple of years back, he’s just, you know, kind of learning the ropes and asking questions and getting up to speed on things. He sees this van with broken windows that looked as though it hadn’t moved in a while. So he asks about it. Turns out the organization owned the van but hadn’t used it in two years. And they had been paying insurance for it the whole time. Somebody knew that that wasn’t ok. But it took someone coming in with a fresh perspective to say, “No, this is not ok.”

Sean Hale (36:25):

So they were able to save $2,000 a year on insurance and got another $500 from selling that old clunker. And they got a parking space back. So often we have a bunch of these things that we’ve just forgotten about. And so the trick is to get perspective somehow and start attending to those things so that you can get those savings. And it’s $2,000 there and it’s $5,000 over there. And pretty soon you have enough money to bring in an intern or something bigger than you’ve been wanting.

Dolph Goldenburg (37:00):

Two years ago I had a client that really exemplified the inertia issue with their storage units. They brought me in because they were having financial issues. They wanted to figure out how to raise more money, but, like you, I wanted to see how we could save money, too. Turns out they had six or seven storage units. When one would fill up, they would get another. A lot of it was junk. And a lot of it was old files they should have destroyed a decade ago.

Sean Hale (38:11):

They probably could have gone down to one unit, if not zero, if somebody could just take a chunk of time and sort that out. Scan the key documents, shred the rest, and throw away the junk. It’s not necessarily bad to be a pack rat, to be careful and cautious about what we throw out. There are good reasons to do that. And there are ways we can leverage technology or bring a friend so we don’t become hoarders and have that big expense.

Dolph Goldenburg (38:51):

Right. And I’ll also just share a quick pro-tip. This is a great opportunity to bring in a corporate volunteer group with an ERG or a BRG. Corporate groups love to come in and do a one-day clean out because they get there and everything looks like heck and then a few hours later they can walk away and everything’s clean and everything’s been consolidated down and they feel like they’ve done something great. And the other bonus is that, typically, that corporate group will make a small gift to your organization as a thank you for letting them, volunteer. So whenever I have a cleanout like that, if I’m the intermediate of an organization, I always suggest we find a good corporate group to come help us do the cleanout or paint the room or whatever else it is.

Sean Hale (39:37):

Yes. They can get quick satisfaction and get that sense of accomplishment from a one-day investment of their time. I love that. Thanks for sharing.

Dolph Goldenburg (39:45):

Well thank you, Sean. I absolutely have to ask you the off-the-map question. We do it in every episode. It helps our listeners get to know you as a person, the person behind the profession. And I understand that you really enjoy board games. And so my question for you is: what board game do you play most often with people who are not in your family?

Sean Hale (40:14):

Well, Dolph, I’m going to be a little bit contrary and I’m going to put it right back on the map. Because the board game I’ve been doing a whole lot of with friends outside the household during the pandemic is online Risk. And so you may remember this from your childhood. It’s the board game with the big map game of world conquest. And it’s the kind of thing that my friends and I had stopped playing because before you know it, it’s 2:00 AM so the person who stays up the latest is the winner But when you play it online, it makes the gameplay a whole lot faster because the computer does a lot of the thinking for you.

Sean Hale (40:52):

And so I’ve been able to play it again for the first time with my good friends and knock out a great game in less than two hours. And so sometimes we even have time for two games. Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. We go to But there are other places that have different versions and even different maps you can use if you want to play Risk on Middle Earth or maybe you like the former Yugoslavia and you want to fight over that.

Dolph Goldenburg (41:30):

That’s really awesome. I may have to go check that. I’ve not played Risk in three plus decades. I may have to go check that out and play Risk. Sean, thank you so much for coming on today. And listeners, you have got to reach out to Sean. You have got to check out his blog, go to There you will see an incredible blog with good, actionable advice and tips that will help your organization be more efficient and more productive and ultimately more successful. While you’re on his page, Bake sure that you check out his webinar. It is scheduled for November 17th and it is Beyond Belt Tightening. So if you have gotten a little interested in this topic based on our conversation today, go to and register for the webinar. There is a $29 fee, but Sean is offering a 100% discount for Successful Nonprofits® listeners. The code is: DOLPH. He is also offering a free, first consultation if you reach out to him. So you should definitely take him up on that. Sean, thank you so much for joining us today.

Sean Hale (42:55):

Hey, Dolph, it’s been a real pleasure. Thank you for the tips that you shared with me. I love that storage unit story; I’m going to be sharing it with some folks I’m sure. It’s been a real pleasure to connect with all your listeners as well. I hope to hear from you guys.

Dolph Goldenburg (43:08):

Thank you, Sean. And listeners, if you were thinking back on your favorite board game and Googling to see whether or not you can play it online, don’t worry about it. Go to and you can get all of the links from today’s show, the tech solutions we talked about, Sean’s website, a direct link to his webinar. And listeners, if you enjoyed today’s show, if you got some good information out of it, I would suggest that you go back and listen to episode 154, Surviving an Economic Crisis with Tony Pergolin. I would also suggest that you go back and listen to episode 153: My organization’s PPP Loan Didn’t Get Funded, Now What? Even if you did get funded, it’s going to give you some great tips on ways that you can save some money and become more efficient. And finally, if you are looking into 2021 and starting to have some concerns about your revenue and your expenses, you should really go to and check out our group coaching, which is only for executive directors who believe they will be facing some tough times in 2021. That, listeners, is our show for this week. I hope you have gained some insight to help your nonprofit thrive in a competitive environment.

Dolph Goldenburg  (44:34):

I am not an accountant or attorney and neither I nor the Goldenburg Group provide tax legal or accounting advice. This material has been provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for tax, legal or accounting advice. Always consult a qualified, licensed professional about such matters.


**  We have edited this transcript because how you listen is not how you read. If you have a problem with this, remember you got this for free!



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