It’s true that nonprofit fundraising, financial management, and marketing are all critical components of a healthy organization. But without impactful programming and robust program management to support it, a nonprofit would cease to exist. Our program managers are the foundation of any nonprofit. They are the catalysts for advancing any mission; the glue that secures the trust of funders, partners, staff, and beneficiaries alike.
Multi-faceted and monumental, the myriad responsibilities of a program manager exceed far beyond the tasks that constitute their original job descriptions. Yes, they oversee high-quality nonprofit projects and work tirelessly to reach the nonprofit’s promised goals. Absolutely, they oversee program budgets and staff members. Often, they work offsite dependent on their nonprofit’s type- at a school for an educational nonprofit; a shelter for a homelessness relief organization; a garden or farm for an environmental nonprofit.
But the role of an excellent program manager is so much more than that.
Program managers serve as key connecting points between executive leadership and staff
When our staff and executive leaders have concerns about what’s working and what’s not, program managers become the go-to holders of this information. They are masters of balancing nonprofit staff politics with careful and strategic discretion and will act respectfully yet fearlessly in the face of difficult conversations.
Program managers serve as key connecting points between nonprofits and strategic partners
Program managers are the experts on all nonprofit’s happenings- from program wins and fails, to information on volunteers, budgetary concerns, and beyond. For strategic partners who are deeply involved in your organization- a local government entity who’s working with you to build your advocacy program, for example- program managers become a trusted, knowledgeable direct contact.
Program managers improve the credibility of the organization and the trust of funders
Has your fundraising team ever brought a program manager along on an important donor meeting? If so, you know how invaluable program managers can be for answering intricate and high-pressure questions from prospective funders. Your fundraisers cultivate funder relationships, but your program managers may be key for converting them.
Program managers advance any mission quickly, by taking action and using data-driven information to inform their work
Onsite and witnessing the action, program managers are often the most motivated members of your nonprofit organization. They understand the need for a strategic plan but aren’t afraid to dive in and get to work regardless of whether that plan is perfect. Many program managers are also in charge of your nonprofit’s program management software, which allows them to analyze and measure program success, and use their results to improve a program and reach its goals more quickly.
Finally, program managers improve the morale of their teams, retaining key staff members and avoiding the pitfalls of nonprofit turnover
Great program managers keep the magic of a nonprofit alive. They are leaders, includers, tough lovers, and coaches. They know how frustrating working at a nonprofit can sometimes be, but they motivate their staff by being an understanding and constant confidante. Exemplifying the spirit of their nonprofit’s mission and the “why” of their efforts day in and day out, program managers give their teams a reason to keep going- to keep pushing forward for lasting, positive change through their work.
So, next time you begin to take the work of your program managers for-granted- don’t! At the end of the day, they are the reason your nonprofit exists. They are the reason your programs are healthy, and most importantly- they are the avenue through which your beneficiaries are being served, and your critically important mission is being met.