Is Your Organization Caught Up in ‘Busyness Syndrome?’
If you’ve been in fundraising for any length of time, you’ve no doubt come across what I call “Busyness Syndrome.”
I first encountered this disorder during my second nonprofit development job. I’d been hired as a grant writer for an agency serving disadvantaged women and children. They were an organization I admired and was familiar with from my days working for a large grant-making foundation that funded them often. But what I found inside the organization was disheartening.
Staff turnover, particularly in development, had been high for years. The records available to me were incomplete. The organization didn’t seem to have a clear fundraising plan and engaged in events unrelated to its mission. A local country club had donated its golf course, so, naturally, we had a golf event every year (despite the fact none of our board members played golf). After all was said and done, the event didn’t break even. I'd been hired to write grant proposals, yet I was constantly pulled off task for insignificant jobs like tying goodie bags or picking up donated auction items. After six short months, I left.
This preoccupation with being busy, rather than following a straightforward plan, affects small, mid-sized and large organizations alike, although it is particularly noticeable in smaller nonprofits.
Does your organization have Busyness Syndrome? Here are a few key indicators:
- Your fundraising is always in crisis mode.
- Your development team pays for its own training and books.
- The responsibility for fundraising is assumed by one or a few people (most often development personnel or your executive director).
- You rely on activities, such as special events or direct mail campaigns, rather than focusing on a comprehensive strategy.
- When major gifts occur, they are usually unsolicited: No-one is charged with making the ask and few face-to-face meetings occur for the purpose of cultivation.
- You’ve never surveyed your donors.
- You know that when your founder leaves next month, she’s taking half of the donors with her.
Tony Buon, a British workplace psychologist, notes that, “Essential to time-management is a change in focus, a change from being ‘busy’ to a focus on outcomes.”
Pamela Grow is the publisher of The Grow Report, the author of Simple Development Systems and the founder of Simple Development Systems: The Membership Program and Basics & More fundraising fundamentals e-courses. She has been helping small nonprofits raise dramatically more money for over 15 years, and was named one of the 50 Most Influential Fundraisers by Civil Society magazine, and one of the 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants by The Michael Chatman Giving Show.