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robotassistantIn the past few years, the small business world has experienced several shifts in perception. Many of these are ideas that were already known to nonprofits (bootstrapping, for instance), while others are new-fangled approaches that just might have some real-world applications for the nonprofit sector. The concept of virtual assistants is one that falls into this latter category.

A virtual assistant is a person who works remotely (either from an office or their home) performing tasks on behalf of your organization. Some of the most common uses for VAs are telephone answering, data entry, and bookkeeping. While not technically a part of your nonprofit, these individuals can take on many of the day-to-day tasks that are necessary to its survival. (And, if we’re being honest, these tend to be some of the most mundane tasks.)

The advent of technology has opened the possibility for this profession. Cloud computing, scheduling software, multi-line phones, email, and remote access to servers has created an environment where it truly is not necessary to be on-site to schedule appointments, pay invoices, manage projects, and so much more.

Advantages of Hiring a Virtual Assistant
There are good reasons to consider hiring a VA, ranging from time to mission to the bottom line:

  • You pay for only the hours you need/use. Rather than having a full-time receptionist getting paid whether the phone is ringing or not, you can pay a VA only for the minutes they actually spend taking and making calls.
  • Refocus your management’s priorities. The nonprofit professional who is trying to “do it all,” can get relief from some of the less pleasant tasks, thereby freeing up time to deliver services, raise funds, etc.
  • Drastically decreases overhead. Virtual assistants don’t require medical or other benefits. In fact, they’re not even salaried, generally working on an hourly basis. Additionally, there is no need to maintain a facility/office for them to do their work.
  • Access to a variety of skills. While some VAs are individual entrepreneurs, there are others that act as full-service operations with a number of professionals who are proficient in different areas. If you need 5 hours of bookkeeping, 10 hours of appointment setting, and 5 hours of market research, this type of operation might utilize the skills of 3 different VAs.
Virtual assistants really can save nonprofits money, although the $25-100/hour price tag may be a bit hard to swallow at first. If you are able to sit down and crunch some numbers, however, you may well find out that you save a lot of money off the cost of payroll, facilities, insurance, and other costs in the long run.

As a final word, you can find VAs that cost considerably less than the price listed above by going through off-shore companies. When considering this route, you will want to take a few things into consideration:

  • Does working with a foreign company complement your organization’s mission?
  • Are you able to clearly explain cultural expectations in your field so that the VA can be an asset?
  • Are the VA’s English skills adequate for your needs?
  • Does the company allow you to work with a particular VA for an entire project, or do you get whoever is available at the time?
Last modified on Sunday, 19 May 2013
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