When You Can’t Do It All
One of the challenges every fundraiser has is being told constantly what he or she must do—a daily dose of articles and seminars, not to mention advice from the organization’s management, board leadership and colleagues about what must be done to make sure the fundraising machine is primed for success. And yet, the reality for most fundraisers is limited time and money. We often know what we should do and would like to do—but constraints mean something "important" is being neglected.
Without question, technology is one area where frustration over limitations can break the spirit of the best fundraiser. In addition to getting out the appeals, newsletters, receipts and thank-you letters, annual reports, proposals, and follow-up reports (and the list goes on), we must maintain robust websites that can accept donations with ease, optimize our websites for mobile, develop giving apps since that’s becoming a must and manage donor-centric data management systems.
No wonder turnover is high for fundraisers, and a percentage of fundraisers leave the profession every year, never to return.
So, there’s a problem. Now, what do we do about it? While I can’t offer you an easy solution or unlimited time and money, here is a process that may help you keep things in balance and accomplish as much as possible.
1. Make a list of everything you need to do. You will want to add to it whenever you can, but initially, just get everything you can think of (or others have thought of for you) written down.
2. Break up big tasks into smaller components. For example, instead of listing "update website," list sections needing updating and features you want to add.
3. Look for "quick wins" on the list—things that can be done right away and for very little cost. In other words, if you put two hours toward the list, are there things you can cross off?
4. Prioritize everything else. Be honest—and fair to yourself. "We need to do this or the fundraising ship will sink" can’t be applied to every single item. Don’t limit yourself to 1-2-3 for prioritizing; instead think about things that:
- Are urgent because they are impacting fundraising today.
- Will impact fundraising if not done before year-end.
- Need to be done, but are not urgent.
- Should be done, but the cost makes them unrealistic for now.
- Would be great to do—someday.
- Are nice but not necessary (wants vs. needs).
5. Ask others to help you with prioritizing only if they have "skin in the game." If the only involvement a person has is to tell you what you should be doing, you’ll just get more depressed (or homicidal) if you seek his or her advice.
6. Look seriously at what a service bureau can do. I was talking to someone over the weekend from a nonprofit that can’t accept online donations. She explained that they simply don’t have the budget to add this capability. So we talked about using an outside provider like PayPal or Network for Good. No, that’s not perfect, and it will cost you a percentage of the contribution as a service charge—but even if you pay a 10 percent fee, you will receive 90 percent that you would not have gotten if you didn’t spend the 10 percent.
7. Choose a few allies who will help you stay focused on the identified priorities and champion your decision when others complain (as they certainly will). Ideally this includes your supervisor, but it should definitely be people who helped you prioritize.
8. Keep the list fluid, adding things as needed and reprioritizing as circumstances change.
9. Celebrate everything you can cross off the list. Even in this day of computerized lists, I keep a handwritten to-do list because I get a lot of satisfaction taking my fat, black Sharpie and crossing something off when I get it done. (Yes, when I finish this article and submit it, I’ll grab hold of that marker and make a huge slash.) Do whatever adds to your personal sense of fulfillment because seeing progress being made is great for staying motivated.
This old dog knows that there is really nothing I can say that will keep you from being overwhelmed by the list of technology improvements that would benefit your nonprofit. But you only will increase your stress and frustration if you change direction every time someone tells you what you ought to be doing when it comes to technology. Setting realistic priorities may help you keep perspective in a world where technology is changing far faster than budgets are increasing and time is becoming more plentiful.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.