Setting up an Administrative System for a CSO: 5 Things to Consider
Having worked in the non-governmental and civil society sector for more than twenty years, one observation I can confidently state is that good administration system is a key part of running your organisation effectively and smoothly. Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are organised institutions that not only deliver services but also manage staff personnel, oversee administration and maintain cash funds.
As recipients of grants from various sources and development partners, they are required to uphold the principles of accountability and transparency. One of the strong indicators of these principles is keeping up-to-date records and having policies and manuals in place, based on which the day-to-day operations of the organisation are to be carried out.
Donors prefer to work with grant recipients that have systems in place prior to providing funding support to them. However, many CSOs fail to keep up-to-date records and operational procedures either due to lack of awareness or because they do not have the skills to develop and maintain them.
The administration is the management of an organisation’s affairs and systems in such a way that the organisation performs effectively and efficiently. Good office administration is one of the key elements associated with a high level of workplace productivity, staff retention and growth of an organisation. It is very difficult to run an organisation without a good administration system. It is, therefore, the duty of management of an organisation to ensure that systems, rules and regulations are in place and applied in an organisation to enable it to deliver on its mandate in an effective and efficient way.
One of the dimensions for measuring the sustainability of civil society organisations is organisational capacity. The 2016 CSO Sustainability Index for Sub-Saharan Africa holds that in nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa, organisational capacity deteriorated, often because of funding shortfalls and the nearly ubiquitous challenge of retaining qualified staff. About half of the reports for 2016 (Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Guinea, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia) mention staffing deficits as a key impediment to organisational growth. This is brought about by low pay, an inability to hire employees on anything other than a project-by-project basis, and an overreliance on junior staff and volunteers. These challenges could stem from the lack of or poorly set up administrative systems.
In the light of the above, there is a need for CSOs to consider the following five things in setting up robust and effective administrative systems. An administration system consists of different aspects and tools, such as i) clear organisational structure; ii) policies and procedures that guide and manage your administration systems; iii) good record-keeping of important documents and day-to-day records; iv)systems and tools to ensure good communication in your office; v) A positive and welcoming office environment.[iii]
Clear Organisational Structure
CSOs should have clearly defined structures which clarify the lines of authority and how work is shared within the organisation. It should show the different departments, the number of staff and facilitate the delegation of responsibilities. A clearly defined organisational structure makes employees feel part of the organisation, shows outsiders how the organisation is structured and its main areas of work. A good organisational structure should help the organisation reach its objectives.
Policies and Procedures
Every organisation needs written policies and procedures to ensure that employees know how to perform their jobs correctly. A policy is a statement of guidelines or rules on a given topic. A procedure describes the steps used to perform a given task or project. Examples include human resource policy, procedures manual, information and technology policy, travel policy, just to name a few.
A solid administrative system needs an efficient filing system either electronic or manual. If an organisation’s documents are easy to find and are all systematically kept in one place, it will be much easier for staff to trace the documents and information they need. In addition, when the time comes to report to the governing body, funders, auditors or members, the information needed to compile the reports will be much more readily accessible.
Systems and Tools for Good Communication
Communication is central to a good administration system. Good communication among and between employees and managers greatly increases productivity. Rather than wasting time on clearing up confusions caused by a breakdown in communication, workers can spend time on their duties. Additionally, good communication allows employees to fully understand what their assignments are. This results in confidence in their work and getting the desired results more quickly and efficiently. Employees are also less likely to make mistakes when communication is promoted in the workplace. Employees can experience an increase in morale, productivity and commitment if they are able to communicate up and down the communication chain in an organisation.
Welcoming and Conducive Office Environment
Receiving your clients and visitors well is an extremely important part of running your office effectively. The atmosphere that you create in your office is therefore very important and is often the first step in building relationships with the people who use your service or come to visit your organisation and to create a positive image of your organisation. A conducive working environment is more than just ensuring a comfortable physical space; it is also about creating the ‘heartware’ which aims to strengthen office ties not just among employees, but between managers and employees.
In conclusion, whether a CSO has a small office or a big office, it is very important that the systems in the office are well run. Good administration systems will allow your organisation to function more effectively. There must be clear reporting lines, policies and procedures must be in place. The organisation must also document its activities properly, have these records well organised and stored and be able to access information easily. It is also critical for the organisation to develop and sustain a conducive working environment for its employees and cordial relationship with its stakeholders especially for all who visit its office premise.
It is important to consider a good administration system as one of the key foundations for high-level workplace productivity and efficiency. It is very demanding to run an organisation without effective administrative systems. Bear in mind that it is the gateway to the success of any organisation.
Disclaimer: This blog post is provided for information purposes only. Opinions expressed herein are not in any way intended to inflame passions. The views expressed in this message are solely those of the authors in their private capacities, except where the authors specifically state them to be the views of a named organisation. WACSI and its partners are not liable for any claims which may arise as a result of the contents of this post and do not accept responsibility for the security of information contained herein.
[iii] Implement and maintain basic administration systems of a CBO-Level 4 - Learner Manual - learning materials were generated by the Development Practice project, hosted by the Sustainability Institute and in partnership with Community Connections, AIDS Consortium, and Keystone. This project generated a set of competency standards with development practitioners in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban, between 2005 and 2009.