How to Stop the Madness and Get Your Fundraising Operation Under Control

Many small and medium sized non-profits face a common problem… they only have one, or maybe two development professionals on staff, and yet they have a seemingly endless amount of fundraising work to do.

There are calls to be made.

There are letters to be written.

Someone has to do follow-ups.

You can’t forget about cultivation calls.

And our big event is only 3 months away!

Time and again, I’ve seen small development shops pulling their hair out trying to get everything done. At these organizations, desks are usually piled high with unorganized work. Dozens of ten minute meetings get held, where the Executive Director tries to get everyone on the same page, and the development staff tries to figure out where they stand on any of the dozens of plates they have spinning at the moment.

If this sounds like your organization, stop. Right now, drop what you are doing and stop. Gather your development staff, put the phones on hold, and cancel your afternoon meetings. You are going to spend one afternoon – THIS afternoon – getting organized and ready to be an effective fundraising operation. Here’s the 5 step plan:

1. Get Organized

If you’ve got a million things going on, papers piled high, and calls waiting to be made, chances are no one person at your non-profit has a good handle on the overall status of your efforts. Have everyone take an hour to go back to their desks and sort through what they are working on. This does not mean that they should try to get anything done. On the contrary, the only thing they should be doing is sorting papers and keeping a list of the 5, 10, or 50 projects they are currently engaged in.

2. Hold a 30 Minute Meeting

Get your team together, and tell them to bring the lists they created in step #1. Each member of your development staff should take a turn explaining, as briefly as possible, what they are working on. There should be no discussion. Just a list. The goal of this meeting is for the Executive Director or Development Director to get a handle on every single thing that is going on in the organization. At the end of the meeting, allow 5 minutes for people to ask questions and get answers. Keep this meeting to 30 minutes or less.

3. Prioritize Your Projects

After the meeting, everyone goes back to their desks. At this point, it’s time for the Executive Director or Development Director to lead the way. One of the key responsibilities of a leader is to prioritize the work of his or her team. The director should sit down with everyone’s lists, and rank priorities.

Use the 80/20 principle here – what 20% of the work is going to result in 80% of the benefit to the charity? The end goal is for the director to come up with a priorities list for the organization that includes all of the important tasks that must be done. For each task, the director should list what person or persons are responsible for the project, and what the deadline is for completion. Project priorities are no good without deadlines, and won’t get done unless everyone knows who is responsible.

While the director is sorting priorities, the team should take an hour to go back to their desks and clean up their work spaces, file papers that have been sitting around, and clean things off. Assuming that they have given all of their tasks over to the director on the sheets they brought to the 30 minute meeting, they can throw out all those to do lists and post-it notes on their desks.

4. Hold a Timeline Meeting

You’ve got your priorities. You know who is responsible. You’ve got deadlines. Now, hold a 45 minute meeting with your entire team. Hand out a spreadsheet showing each of these items. Run through the list. Ask for problems, concerns, suggestions, changes. Get your team invested in this spreadsheet. Tell them why it is important. Take their feedback seriously, and revise the list as you deem necessary.

Tell your team that, instead of trying to hide it when projects are behind schedule, they should bring it to your attention. They should ask for help if needed. They should speak up if something goes wrong that affects their ability to meet a deadline. Let your team know that everyone (including the director) is expected to meet their responsibilities on this sheet, as well as handle the day to day tasks that are in their job description.

5. Execute the Plan

Now, perhaps for the first time, your team has a well-defined plan. It’s time to execute that plan. Your team should have a 30 minute priorities meeting every week to discuss how everyone is progressing on the plan. As things change and new projects emerge, make changes and additions to your list. You may be surprised at just how effectively your team works once things are organized and prioritized!

This article by Fundraising Authority founder Joe Garecht originally appeared as a guest post on A Small Change Fundraising Blog


Photo Credit: ISCTE