Staffing for Success
By Mark D. Burkhardt, Director for Outdoor Ministries, ELCA
Over the past several years one of the most frequent questions I have been asked by board members is “What is an appropriate staffing model for our outdoor ministry organization?” Implied in the question is often an assumption that someone has figured out the answer to this challenging question. Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that there is a formula for solving this perplexing issue. As I work with outdoor ministry boards around the country I see many staffing models. Some staffing models seem to work well and some don’t. One common denominator for those that work well might be this, choose a staffing model that you can afford. That may seem obvious, but unfortunately I see many outdoor ministry organizations that try to grow their staff too big, too fast. Outdoor ministry “A” hears that Outdoor Ministry “B” just added a new staff position, so “Outdoor Ministry “B” thinks that might be a good idea for them as well. The problem is that all outdoor ministry organizations are not alike. We have tremendous variation in the way our outdoor ministry organizations are organized and supported. In addition, the volume of program participation also varies greatly. So here are some suggestions - no magic answers - just suggestions.
First, meet with your existing staff to identify critical areas of work that need additional help. Areas of attention should closely match the strategic goals for your organization. No one else knows best what your organization needs at this particular point in your history. Your board must decide what you need, so don’t follow another organization’s model.
Second, develop a job description for the work that’s required, including both responsibilities and qualifications. Then, ask whether your goal could be accomplished without adding a new paid staff member. Would it be possible to shift some current responsibilities around and spread out the workload in a new or creative way? Is there an existing staff member whose gifts are being under-utilized? Could volunteers be recruited to help with some of the work? If it is determined that a new employee is needed, then ask if a full-time employee is needed or a part-time employee.
The next step is to determine what funding will be required. One key piece of advice is to grow your staff slowly, only as you are able to generate enough money to support the position over the long haul. Going into debt to secure a new staff person is a risky proposition. So, here are two possible ways you can grow your staff without incurring debt. One, is to begin generating enough of an operating surplus that that you can fund the new staff position out of your surplus. The other is to secure a special gift or grant that allows you to transition into a new staffing arrangement over a two or three year period, gradually shifting new employee compensation into your operating budget as income increases. Both of these approaches still involve some level of risk, but they demonstrate a higher level of care for the organization and for the new employee. Your new employee needs to know that you are making a good faith effort to secure adequate funding for their position.
Staffing your outdoor ministry organization will probably be an ongoing challenge. So, make sure you build an evaluation piece into the process so that you can access how well a new position is working. Is the work getting accomplished the way you had hoped? If not, what needs to change? As you move along in your strategic plan, continue to check with the staff on a regular basis to make sure that there are enough persons to accomplish the goals your board has established. Then, it’s a matter of repeating the same cycle of planning described above. The appropriate level of staffing (paid and volunteer) will be a key to the ability of your organization to achieve your goals. Remember, the best model of staffing is the one you can afford and that best supports your strategic goals.