Now is the time to assure you’ve got a manageable plan in place so you’re ready for prime fundraising season next Fall.
This month’s tips are designed to help you figure out how to prioritize and manage everything on your plate.
A task management system may help a little. Here’s one some of my clients use (you can try it for free for 30 days). You may have a favorite. There are numerous other task management systems you can check out here. Most of these systems will “tickle” you to remind you when tasks are uncompleted. And you can assign tasks back and forth to others as well. So if you need someone else’s help with something you can assign it to them, and vice-versa. The kicker? You need to get everyone to buy in to using this system. If you’re a small shop, and don’t have a lot of folks with whom to coordinate, I find just plugging all my tasks into my online calendar and blocking out chunks of time works swell. Of course, you need to keep adjusting this if tasks take longer than anticipated.
Here are some thoughts that may help with organization:
If you’re new to the job, you may never have received a good orientation as to what tasks to prioritize — let alone how to do those tasks. This results in drinking from a firehose. You need a way to figure out which spigots to turn on; then off. If you can’t manage the flow you’ll feel you’re being flooded. Constant crisis mode. Exhausting.
Make a list of all your job responsibilities.
Attach an anticipated ROI to each one (e.g. “acquire X new monthly donors;” “acquire X new one-time donors;” “upgrade X current donors to major gift level;” “upgrade X current major gift donors to larger gifts;” “renew X lapsed donors;” “convert X [volunteers; subscribers; members; clients] to donors,” “acquire 20 new legacy gift commitments,” and so forth).
Attach a monetary value to each strategy. (e.g., 100 new monthly donors at average $8/month = $9,600).
Check in with your boss to see where you agree/disagree; then refine your list.
This should help you prioritize. It’s not all about today’s money; you have to prime the pump for tomorrow too. But the Pareto 80/20 Rule applies: you should be spending 80% of your time where you’ll get 80% of your contributed income.
If you’re new to the job, or have never tracked this before, you won’t have a good idea of how long tasks take. How much time should you allocate to planning and budgeting? To meetings and adminstrative tasks? To actual strategy implementation? Do you know how much time you’re spending finding compelling stories and photos? What about drafting, reviewing and editing appeal copy and design? What about making donor check-in/”getting to know you” calls? Or qualifying donors to add to your personal portfolio? Or assigning donors to other members of your team’s portfolios? Or making your own direct asks? Or researching prospects? Or writing grant proposals and reports? Or planning and coordinating events? Or making thank you calls… writing/sending thank you letters and emails… engaging in cultivation activities… inputting data… generating reports… conducting donor research… and so much more? What else is on your plate, and how much time do those things take?
Take a week (or two if it seems like an unusual week) to keep track of how you spend your time.
See how this meshes with your priorities (see above).
Talk with your boss about how to find a better balance.
Little things that don’t result in much ROI can eat up a lot of time. Try to get these moved off your plate. You need time to live and breathe your job. This will help you focus on the areas where you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck, not to mention the strategies that play to your strengths. Even if your boss is a “natural” at fundraising, they likely wear too many other hats to be thinking about your priorities morning, noon and night. Someone has to be on top of this at all times if you want to build a well-oiled development machine that will stand you in good stead, today and tomorrow. And that someone should be you! Don’t wait for others to hold you accountable. The best development professionals do this themselves, as a matter of course. Otherwise you’ll lose donors you shouldn’t lose, not upgrade others, and generally leave money on the table
Given the times we’re in, it’s likely you’ve been working at a time development and marketing staff were cut back. As we move back to being on-site, and being able to connect with donors in person, strategies that were put on hold will need to be reactivated. This will take more time. What will this mean for you?
Consider what staffing you think will be needed for the coming year. What would make it possible for you to do your priority tasks more effectively, resulting in greater revenue for your organization? For example, if you feel you have too many good “upgrade prospects” to handle personally, you can make a case to add staff. If you think there are grants out there untapped by your organization, you can make a case to add staff. If you’ve cut back on appeals due to lack of support, you can make a case to add staff. Or maybe you’re fine as is. Just think about it. Development should be viewed as a revenue center; not a cost center. Expenses are not a black hole; they’re actually designed to bring in more money than they cost. You have to spend money to make money.
Talk with your boss about how they envision development staffing moving forward. How do they see your job responsibilities evolving? How do you want them to evolve? Endeavor to get greater clarity on your role, responsibilities and personal mission.
Here’s something to help you with all your appeal writing. It comes directly from direct mail copywriter Jeff Brooks, who suggests you encourage readers to stay involved, and to connect with the stories you tell, by “guiding” them directly. Give it a try!
Consider incorporating omments like this:
- “What happened next will really surprise you…”
- “Let me repeat that last part for you. It’s very important.”
- “It broke my heart when I saw her that last time.”
You step out of the story you’re telling and pull the reader in by directly addressing them. You can add color and interpretation that way. Do it well, and it can increase reader engagement with the story. And more engagement leads to more donations.