Stuck On Start

The meeting was great. The committee all agreed on what needed to be done and each task was assigned to someone who was to have primary responsibility. We felt good. We felt like, finally, things were going to happen.

Then a week went by. Two. Finally it was a month and a half and very little had occurred. Worse, it was clear we had missed the deadline. And once again we were stuck on start.

Sound familiar? If you work or volunteer at a non-profit where there isn’t enough paid staff to pick up the slack, odds are it does. It’s not that anyone plans on not doing what he or she was assigned to do. Or that anyone means to miss deadlines. But the rest of life gets in the way, and no one has really taken charge of ensuring that all the pieces that have to come together do.

What you need is a “Chief Executive Nag.” The one person whose job it is to keep all the parts moving. Sounds simple, but believe me, it takes a lot more than just appointing someone as the CEN.

I’ve been that nag often in my life—both personally and professionally. What I’ve learned is that no matter how good a nag I am (and trust me, I nag fantastically), unless the entire team agrees that this project is something we all want to succeed, all nagging will fall on deaf ears.

Bring it home. I spent years nagging my kids to clean their rooms. The problem was that my definition of clean and theirs didn’t match. And my need for clean was, well, my need. They frankly didn’t care.

Take it back to your organization now. Clearly, the first thing is that everyone must be truly committed to getting it done. Whatever it is. The negotiations as to what constitutes “it” and what has to be done must happen up front. I also believe in writing it all down and getting buy-in from all concerned. And then—and this is really important—clearly and concisely, chart out who is responsible for doing what, when.

I used the word chart deliberately. Everyone involved needs to see how what they do impacts what others can and cannot accomplish, and how the whole comes together. I’m not above asking everyone to sign off on the document.

And now, the nag. That person’s main job should be to call each and every person involved and find out the status of his or her task(s). And then, the nag should, on an agreed upon time (Twice a week? Weekly? Bi-weekly?—whatever works for the group) let everyone know what everyone else is up to (or not!). This is really crucial.

Without consequences, things often get put on the back burner. The consequence of everyone knowing that I am shirking my duties, or at the very least, much further behind than I should be, is a great goad to getting my work done. And a wonderful way to ensure that your project does not get stuck on start.

Janet Levine is a consultant who works with nonprofits and educational organizations. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at