NQMS: Time-Saver for Busy Executive Director

Read what Sarah VanSickle from Project Friendship Mentoring in Northfield had to say about their experience with the NQMS. (This blog originally appeared on the National Mentoring Resource Center Blog.)

“There are never enough hours in the day!” This is something I’ve said a million times. There is NEVER.ENOUGH.TIME. I am a Virgo so it goes without saying I am over organized and extremely type A to a fault. Managing Project Friendship (local mentoring organization in Northfield, MN, matching 2nd – 7th graders with college students) as the part-time Executive Director, there is always something on my to do lists (yes, I have more than one list). From new matches, forms to approve, grants and their reports to write, complete the NQMS process… the list is always long.

Last winter I sat in my office, which is also my kitchen, thinking about how 24 hours in a day isn’t enough and that there has to be a better way to manage them. There is just too much to do. I already had color coded calendars, multiple to do lists with the top 3 tasks to complete each day, only checking email twice a day. Everything I am supposed to do according to Pinterest and the “Top 10 Time Management Skills” lists. My mind raced as I boldly shut my laptop (gasp!). It was a deliberate action, one that I don’t do often. I recall thinking there is no way I can do it all and that I needed more employees (of course I don’t have the budget for them!). After another cup of coffee, I muffled a small laugh. Who was I kidding, I will always push to do more! Fact is I thrive on an overloaded schedule. I stared at my to do lists and chose the biggest project on there as a place to start just for having thought I couldn’t fit it in. I chose the project that weighed on me the most. The one that was the most daunting and had put off for 3 months already. It was the one I thought I didn’t have time to do. I chose the NQMS assessment. It was time to dig in and make the time.

I signed into the system. I began by filling out the profile and basics then saw there were 90+ questions. I stopped, shut my computer again. I returned to the system the next day and thought I’ll tackle section one then stop again, only one section a day because I have a million other things I have to get to today. I got to question 2 before I stopped that day, it hit me. It was like hitting a brick wall at full speed. This was my answer to more time. Yes, you read that right! Answering 90+ questions, the NQMS process was going to help me the type A Virgo, over scheduled and crazy organized to have more time. I set aside one hour each day to go through one of the sections until I completed all the questions. Don’t get me wrong, it took a while to complete.

Project FriendshipWe already implemented most of the Elements of Effective Practice into our structure over my three years in this position, however much of the process and system of how we managed the matches and the communication was in my head. Of course, we had formal applications, forms, agreements, evaluations, etc. but the order in which they happened, the record keeping was my system and I had to explain it and show volunteers, staff and interns how to use it every single time. That took a lot of my limited time, it got to the point where it was easier if I just did it myself. Who’s with me on that? This way of thinking wasn’t helping me fix the “There are never enough hours in the day!” problem.

Answering the NQMS questions was life changing. Everything was now out of my head in a document and ANYONE could follow the steps. This. Was. Absolutely. Life. Changing!

During the process of answering the questions, we wrote policies, procedures and handbooks with the help of our NQMS guide, the Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota. We updated our evaluations to tie our mission statement and logic model, which reflects what we really do! WHAT?!!?! I know, crazy! We found areas to improve, things we thought we needed to do but really, they don’t fit our program and areas where we were doing well. NQMS provided more than a assessment for Project Friendship, it defined our program. We were already doing what we should do, we now had the entire program start to finish, front end and back end. A system that anyone could learn and follow, which ultimately brings our staff’s focus back to our matches and their goals.

I highly recommend that all programs, especially smaller programs with limited resources like staff and time, go through the NQMS assessment and review process. Thinking through each area of your program and what’s really needed, how to streamline certain parts is worth every single minute you’ll spend on it and pay you back in TIME.

Sarah Van Sickle studied Business and Marketing Education at UW-Stout. She taught high school marketing courses for 2 years after college before going back to school to earn her Masters degree from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in Sport Management. She proceeded to work for the City of St. Paul Parks and Recreation as the Special Event Coordinator at Harriet Island Regional Park, overseeing 175+ events each year. After 5 years, Sarah began her work in the nonprofit world as the Executive Director for Irish Fair of Minnesota where she produced a three day Irish festival. With the arrival of her third child, she decided it was time to slow life down and focus on her family. She moved to Northfield and discovered a new passion and the past three years has enjoyed every minute of growing and energizing Project Friendship.