The Value of a Chief of Staff in Social Sector Organizations: Insights from a One-Year Journey

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A year ago, I joined Dhwani RIS, a tech4good organization that builds ICT solutions for non-profits, CSRs, foundations, and social sector organizations, after giving up my consulting roots at Sattva Consulting, a social impact consulting firm. In the past year, I have been involved in a series of instrumental activities that have led me to the realization of how important a Chief of Staff (CoS) is to any social impact organization.

One of the key challenges that founders and leaders of social purpose organizations (For-Profits as well as NGOs) face is a lack of time and bandwidth. Even though they have a lot of skills and knowledge, they can’t do everything on their own. This is where a Chief of Staff can be particularly valuable, as they can take on some of the workload and responsibilities, allowing the founders and leaders to focus on the things that only they can do. This can help to limit the organization’s growth and potential, as the founders and leaders are unable to take on new initiatives or projects due to a lack of time and resources.

As the Chief of Staff at Dhwani RIS, I have tried adding value to the organization in several ways. I have taken on tasks such as market research, competitive analysis, new product exploration, and establishing processes, and have also been involved in the hiring and learning and development strategy for the organization. In addition to these specific tasks, I have acted as a “second brain” for the founders and leaders, helping to structure and organize their work and ideas, and providing guidance and support as needed.

A CoS is different from an Executive Assistant in that they have a more strategic focus and are more closely aligned with the organisation’s goals and vision. While an Executive Assistant may handle scheduling and travel arrangements, the Chief of Staff is tasked with planning and executing initiatives.

Another key role they play is to offset the mental load and stress that founders and leaders often experience. Running a non-profit organization can be demanding, and it can be easy for founders and leaders to become overwhelmed and burnt out. You can provide support and assistance, taking the burden off the founders and leaders so that they can focus their attention on the things that are most important.

Age and experience are not necessarily the most critical factors in determining who would make a good Chief of Staff. What is most important is finding someone who can think strategically, has strong organisational and communication skills and can work effectively with the founders and leaders to achieve the goals of the organization.  Moreover, the opportunity allows you to be inside a fast-moving startup and work closely with the founders, this can help you get a foot in the door, learn, and make connections.

In my daily routine, I work closely with the founders and leaders to help plan and execute projects and initiatives, manage the workload and priorities of the organization, and provide support and assistance as needed like building crucial strategies for the growth of the organization. I also work with the project teams to ensure that they have the resources and support they need to be successful. Along with this, I get to plan webinars, attend conferences and forge critical partnerships for the organizations.  It is a mix of multiple things, but at the core of it, all is the goal of helping the organization achieve its mission and vision. And for sure it’s never a dull day in the office since you are wearing multiple hats every day.

Investing in a Chief of Staff or Founder’s Office is crucial for social sector organizations to maximize their impact. Not only does it relieve the mental load and stress of the founder or leader, but it provides valuable support and strategic guidance that drives growth and success. With the help of a Chief of Staff, leaders and funders can focus on the most critical aspects of their work and unlock their full potential. He/She can help to prioritize, coordinate, and execute tasks, freeing up time and energy for the founder or leader to focus on vision, strategy, and relationships. By investing in CoS, social sector organizations can improve their efficiency, accountability, and effectiveness, creating a multiplier effect that drives greater impact.

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