Thursday, June 30, 2011

Project Managing "Mission Impossible"

Hi everyone- so sorry for the lag in posts! As some of you know it is the end of the fiscal year today for lots of us!! In addition to back to back donor relations and special events conferences where I met fabulous new friends, I was recently given the largest and most pressure packed project to manage in the past 6 days. Let's see here, how can I describe the particular hell I have been working on lately?  I figure combined, my team and I, a core group of four put in solid 14 plus hour workdays and countless hours on the train and at home reviewing the documents. There are a few key lessons that I learned during this crisis project management and I want to share them with you.

1. Have a plan- my plan started in the shower at 5am, trying to come up with a list of resources we would need and what it would take to get the job done. Then I broke that out and began to assign those parts to the staff I had that were best suited for that role, my task was primary project management and quality control, I had someone in charge of spreadsheets and data, someone in charge of logistics, and another in charge of obtaining supplies and general needs. Dividing the work helped us have clear roles and responsibilities and also played to my staff's strengths. My admins also enjoyed watching me take lunch orders and running to get coffee and soda when the caffeine and sugar had run out, no job was too big or too small for any of us, including me.
2. Communication is key, every day twice a day, the leadership wanted written updates, so before these happened we met as a team to ensure that we could give them sound updates of our progress. I was constantly on the phone or emailing those in charge ensuring they knew of our status, sanity, and progress.
3. You need to have built relationships BEFORE the crisis or project hits your plate. My team worked tirelessly side by side, with the mantra of "we can do this" we reached out to our key contacts and pulled in every favor in the book to accomplish what my VP called "mission impossible".
4. Be clear about your obstacles and where you need help. There were many obstacles to our success in this project (most of them were people). Every time I faced one, I went to the leaders, the ones who handed down the edict to "get r done" and told them of my obstacle, phone calls from "on high" were made and the obstacle disappeared. You must be truthful and non dramatic, don't make this about you or the person, keep it project focused.
5. Be prepared for the unexpected. Mid way through the project, another division decided that the project was "too much to handle" and dropped their portion back on my office. My staff was agile and focused, we already had a plan of attack for our work and enacted our plan for their division's portion seamlessly.
6. One of the largest lessons came from someone in charge of our operations who I really look up to, I was at a breaking point and someone in another division was being uncooperative, so I thought I would go to her to "vent". Instead, I learned a valuable lesson- there is no point in venting if you don't want something done about it. 30 seconds later the uncooperative party was told in no uncertain terms to "get with the program". I didn't need to vent, I needed action, and this leader made me see and realize that my venting was unproductive whining.
7. Have quality control standards. At the beginning of this project we all sat down and addressed our biggest potential pitfall, a simple mistake made due to time and pressure constraints. We are all human, but there was no room for error. Everything was reviewed three times, with the final review being mine so I would own any errors. We found mistakes, we corrected and moved forward.
8. Make your expectations of your team up front. I communicated to them that everything else in our lives and work was no longer a priority, lunches and breaks disappeared, chit chat and socializing with others became mute and we all just buckled down. To ease the tension, there was plenty of bad greasy food, loud 80s music, and horrible jokes at our own mistakes, but everyone in our unit and elsewhere knew this was our sole focus.
9. Tensions can and will erupt, my associate director and I got into a spat, over what we still haven't figured out yet, lol. But at the time we were both overworked, frustrated, and on edge. Apologies we said, we cooled down and the work continued, it wasn't personal, it was the geyser erupting and it actually helped push us forward. Crap happens, its how you deal with it and where you go from there that is important- PS- she won the fight- lol 10. Finally- celebrate!! We bought celebration candy and kept it in the fridge waiting for the moment that I had been waiting 7 days for, sending the email to the big bosses that we had accomplished the impossible. We danced, we sang, we hugged and high-fived, the sense of relief was palpable.
And later, we will do a post mortem to learn what we could have done better, how I could have been a better leader and to review our accomplishment.
I hope this helps those of you when you are assigned those impossible projects in the future and reminds you of those times when you just weren't going to make it!!
I look forward to your comments and to hear your stories as well! Have a great end of the fiscal year and long weekend for some of you!!



Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Guest Post on Donor Communications

Wonderful guest post by one of my Tweeps, Amy Oberholzer, who has been working in the charity sector for 4 years now, which has been extremely rewarding; hearing the feedback from donors, charity clients & their beneficiaries is what motivates me each day to go that step further. Donor com's is one of my passions! "I spend most of my days helping to build engaging stewardship programs with clients, as I believe that this is key in every regular giving campaign. However at the end of the day, I like to think that, "It's about making a difference..."

Many folks I’ve chatted to recently have stopped supporting a charity because they were either never thanked or simply sent out the generic “thank you” letter that doesn’t seem to change much from appeal to appeal. I’m not sure which is worse...

If your supporters don't feel like they are helping, or that their donations are not needed or taken for granted - majority will end up moving on to support another charity. One vital way you can keep a hold of your valuable supporters is to make sure you have a robust stewardship strategy, which is built on good donor com's.

Donor Com’s should be inspiring, sharing an honest & powerful story. Making a supporter feel like they are on a journey with you, helping you in your path to achieve your objectives. Com’s are in place to build a relationship between you and your supporters, it’s personalised (as much as possible) and sent out on a regular basis in their preferred medium.

Take your supporters on a journey, show them how their support is making a difference in your charity and how IMPORTANT they are in helping you to achieve your objectives.

Answer their questions and thank them promptly. Don’t be afraid to ask them how they feel about supporting your charity, and how & when they want to hear from you. Give them different options to support your charity in other ways (eg - volunteering, campaigning, etc).

Most of all treat them like a person, not a number!