First, let’s clear out some space. I’ve participated in many a planning session, and seldom do I recall – if ever – really focusing first on what we could stop doing in order to make room for new endeavors. We pay lip service to the notion; usually it’s just an afterthought. As a consequence, we try to stuff too much into our work plans and end up doing nothing as well as we should. For this reason, I’m intrigued by Dorie Clark’s recent post in Harvard Business Review: Five Things You Should Stop Doing in 2012. It boils down to the following:
NOT TO DO
1. Being a slave to the vampire email. Email is sucking the life’s blood from our best laid plans—and our very selves. What would it be like to actually put something into our work plans that mandated coming up with a policy to stop all the craziness we all talk about? I’m not referring here to external email (we should do more of that; see below); I’m talking about diarrhea-like explosion of internal email. Anyone who goes away for a week knows the feeling of coming back to a train of 20 emails on the same subject that go round and round, usually getting nowhere fast. In the end, the group gets together to meet in person to make a decision OR nothing happens. It’s maddening.
2. Doing what you’ve always been doing just because you’ve always done it. What if before we start adding in new strategies to our plans we were to go through last year’s plan with a fine tooth comb and take out anything that really isn’t working well for us anymore? This is a form of zero-based thinking that could be applied to our personal lives as well. It speaks to being fully present and conscious when we engage in the annual budgeting/planning process. We need to start with what we hope to accomplish this year; then look at our strategies (old and new) through this lens. If what we’ve done previously won’t really get us to our goal, then it’s time to let it go.
3. Subscribing to news you can’t use or that doesn’t entertain or refresh. I must admit, this one really hit a personal nerve. I have at least a dozen magazine subscriptions piled up with unread copies since last summer – and that’s just the hard copy stuff! I need to go on an information diet. Maybe this doesn’t exactly fit into your department work plan, but it may be worth a resolution to allocate a certain amount of time for ‘professional development’ or ‘research’; then limit your subscription/blog reading to specified time slots. Anything we don’t read/use after 3 – 6 months we should probably release (I’m going to go toss those old magazines right now!).
4. Work that’s not worth it.Before we do things the right way, we need to be sure we’re doing the right things. And anything that sucks up a tremendous amount of time, yielding relatively little, should probably fall off our list. (Rethinking special events is a good idea for many of us. They’re the least cost-effective way to do fundraising and every hour we spend on events means a lost hour on doing something with a potentially higher yield).
5. Complicated stuff that ignores the heart of the matter. This is a corollary of #4. I remember working with a committee to do a very complicated shopping benefit involving multiple vendors each offering to give a different % of their profits back to the charity. Some of the vendors didn’t want to attend, so volunteers were needed to staff their booths. Multiple staff were needed to calculate all the different percentages at check-out and fill in where there were insufficient volunteers. The 12 members of the committee and their friends attended and spent $35,000 buying designer clothing, jewelry, accessories, notions and lotions. The charity grossed $7,000. At one point, before things had gone too far, one committee member asked: What if we all gave $1K and just forgot about the event? No one listened.
Now that we’ve looked at what we should not do, let’s take a look at what we should do. It helps to look back at Convio’s predictions of key trends for the nonprofit sector in 2012. Convio sees more:
6. Online giving is the fastest growing giving channel per Convio’s research. So let’s allocate more time and budget to this area. Donors of all ages are giving more online and users are finding us not only on computers, but also on tablets and phones. Online is where it’s at, and we need to be there. This is not the year to simply tweak last year’s plan (which was likely a tweaked version of the previous year’s plan… and so on, and so on). But online’s influence extends far beyond fundraising transactions as more constituents engage in web-based communications and advocacy.
7. Peer-to-peer engagement is the quickest, most direct way to create awareness, generate involvement and capture donor research.We can’t have all of our marketing communications budgets in hard-copy publications like newsletters, annual reports and brochures. People don’t care so much what we have to say. They care more about what their peers have to say – about us, about the cause and about the community they are creating. This holds especially true for the younger generations. We have to begin thinking about strategies that engage our supporters as active promoters.
8. People are simply overloaded with information, so it’s more difficult to cut through the clutter and be heard. This year we have to get creative. What will make us stand out? What will really capture the hearts and imaginations of our constituents? Do we know enough about our supporters to know what will be relevant to them? We must put some time into learning more about our friends; then creating content strategies so that our communications really resonate.
9. Supporters want information the way they want it. We have to customize more and offer options (email, snail mail, completely paperless, etc.). To really budget/plan effectively, it would be so useful to know in advance how many people want to receive a hard copy annual report or newsletter. Can we find out now?
10. Our marketing channels must work in concert. If your organization has constituent communications segregated through different departments (e.g., development, marketing, customer service, volunteers), this is the year to get on the same page. All these departments are making similar relationship-building and marketing decisions. If we’re not together, we’re duplicating resources and potentially weakening our brand through inconsistent messaging. Fundraisers are starting to understand that we no longer just write fundraising letters and grant proposals. We must write for the website, mobile devices, tablet devices, social networks, micro-blogs and more. All of our content must cater to these formats, while delivering a unique and tailored fit for our users. This is truly a case of ‘United We Stand; Divided We Fall.’