Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ants Marching- Managing your Workload

As I prepare myself for commencement next week followed by a sold out conference and finish a paper for my class on capital campaigns, glancing through the calendar on my iPad that screams at me with more meetings than are humanly possible, and end of the fiscal year projects, I thrill with the idea of balancing it all and excelling. Somewhere in there is a personal life too, but don't worry, I don't sleep so it makes everything easier. (I know you think I'm exaggerating but alas, that can't be said with a straight face.) So here I am on my morning commute musing about how my supposed madness can benefit many of you. One of the most difficult challenges we face as fundraising professionals is that of balance, time management, and prioritization. Here, for you, is a blog about how to manage it all, keep smiling, sleep well at night and have the perfect life. By now, most of my readers know I'm very honest and straight forward so that blog doesn't exist. But here is a list of tips and tricks I use to help manage the daily (over)flow of priorities, tasks, and life.

1. Calendaring and building a work plan
Ever since I was a one woman shop at Rollins, I have used a task calendar that was divided monthly, see below, with a list of the major projects I was working on that month. It helped me stay focused, it helps communicate with others and it helps with tip # 8. It helps to stay at a high level for your projects, avoiding drilling down into the minutia of the tasks and becoming overwhelmed.

2. Make lists-
I keep a weekly task list on my iPad that combines my work life, professional development life and personal life into one. At work every Monday I come into the office and make a task list of two sides, one of items that NEED to be completed this week and items that I WANT to have completed that week. I try to vary the list and, just like homework when I  was in school balance one thing I love doing with one thing I would rather not. Crossing things off the list helps keep me motivated and organized and works well when others want to place additional items on my plate. See item #8.

3. Have a heat chart-
when I arrived at my last position, and this one, I was tasked with rebuilding a donor relations shop from the ground up, something I love doing and now as a consultant help others perform audits to find out where their doing best and need improvement. I built a spreadsheet, pictured here that listed the items that needed to be completed then sat with my VP and had her place them in categories, low medium and high and built a heat chart, color coding them by importance, which helped me prioritize and then shaded them green when complete. This tool has been very beneficial for me.

4. Done one thing really well, perfect it and move onto the next thing when you are in a small shop or shop of one, life and work tasks can be so overwhelming. Now that I have a staff, I can still say the same except now add managing people to the list. My mantra when I work on my program is take one thing each year, semester, quarter, and perfect it as much as possible, do it really well, be satisfied and move on to the next. You CAN NOT do it all perfectly at once right away, but you CAN build incrementally, one bite at a time. I would rather be doing a few things really well than be a mess at it all because I can't task manage and am overwhelmed.

5. Make better use of your time.
This may be the tip you least want to hear other than mysterious #8, but it's true. My friend Pierre Khawand gives wonderful workshops, webinars and has many resources for you here at . As yourself if you are using your time wisely and efficiently. One example is this blog; I usually write it on my subway commute when I would otherwise be watching a movie or reading a book on my iPad, avoiding eye contact with another at all cost (lol). It's an efficient way to be focused, dead lined (before I get to work) and helps me greatly. The other thing I do because I am an extreme morning person is head into the office early. The quiet of the office in the morning helps me obtain focus and some days I get more done before others get there than with my daily distractions once everyone arrives and my extroverted need to interact takes over. Hate mornings? Stay late for some quiet time in the office too. It helps a great deal. Pierre also says that focused bursts of highly efficient work is another way to manage and I agree, put on some headphones, and block off time on your calendar, interruption free.

6. Ask for help-
This seems basic but often times is overlooked. There is no loss of pride from admitting that you we help and it builds camaraderie. People will respect you, you won't waste your time struggling with a spreadsheet or task that would take you double the time of someone else and you will find that others will ask you for help with areas you are the expert in. A win-win all around.

7. Get organized
 If you are like me, order some colored file folders and a label maker, index your shared drive, and get to work. Organizing your space one good time will help you work in the future and will save you time digging through files when someone needs something urgently. I would also urge you to move paperless. Everything I have in print is necessary, I never print emails, I have on average5-8 emails in my inbox and our shared drive and my email folders are organized and comprehensive. If there is no reason for you to have it in paper and it will cause clutter, don't keep it. Google docs and drop box are life saving apps. I have been able to save the day many times because I have things on hand digitally, in restaurants, airports, offices, everywhere, stored in the cloud where they are secure, easily accessible and portable.

8. Super secret and final tip--- say NO.
So here will be the revelation for some of you. It is okay, good, in fact, to sometimes say no. I know it seems contrary to everything we are and do, but it is necessary not only for your sanity but also for your success. You can't say no without purpose and strategy though, and sometimes no matter how hard you try to refuse, yes is the only answer. However, I find that many professionals are overburdened and unable to prioritize because they are not strategic planners, have people pleasing disease (an essential component for donor relations) and at times have martyr complexes. Since I'm not a therapist and keep a couple psychologists in their nice offices and summer homes myself, I won't begin to analyze that part of the issue. What I will say is that if you have a plan, a calendar, a heat list, are purposeful in your work and actions, explaining the no and declaring it to be true is much easier and is often respected by your leadership. It is easy to tell someone, "not now", or "here is what I am working on right now, how would you like me to shift my plans"? They will respect your strategic thinking and help you prioritize or shift your planning. If you fear you will be fired, thought less of, or otherwise negatively affected by taking the time to say no, I urge youth analyze your situation and yourself. Tough love time.

I hope these tips have opened your eyes, helped start you on a changed path or just reassured you that indeed, you are on the right track. I would love to hear your thoughts and tips and welcome your feedback and comments.



Thursday, May 10, 2012

Skidmore College’s 24-Hour Young Alumni Challenges Nets Over 1,000 Donors

The following is a great story from Jen Castellani at Skidmore College about a recent annual giving campaign that turned out to be a HUGE success! I hope you enjoy the example of creativity and flexibility of a wonderful development staff. Congratulations to all at Skidmore!
In late March, my director of development emailed some colleagues an article about DePauw University’s recent 24-hour challenge where they secured 866 donors in a single day. Given that we were bleeding donors, I suddenly found myself scurrying to implement a similar effort with only one month to plan, market, and execute it.
Skidmore had never attempted a 24-hour challenge before, so we had no framework or benchmark. I had to start from scratch.
As a staff, we decided to focus our efforts on our most recent 20 classes. As such, all of our marketing consisted of email, social media, and word-of-mouth, beginning just a week prior to the Challenge day. Our message was simple: 501 donors on 5/01 meant $50,000 for Skidmore. (A group of committed donors pledged the $50,000 should we reach our goal). Little did we know what we were in for.
When 5/01 rolled around, we were prepared logistically. We had a Challenge website with a count-down clock and graphics to display Challenge progress. We had emailed a series of messages to our target constituents. Facebook and Twitter also helped us spread the word. Email templates had already been created to use for Challenge updates. Our social media guru had a plan for Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, our alumni annual fund volunteers contacted their classmates to inform them of the Challenge. On campus, Advancement staff was ready to make our own prospect phone calls. We were set.
Partnering with Alumni Affairs, we also arranged regional Pub Nights in NYC, Boston, and Saratoga Springs for the evening of 5/01 so that alumni could gather together to receive Challenge updates, mix and mingle, and hopefully have a great time.
By 8:00am, we already had over 40 online gifts and were astounded as the number of gifts continued to increase throughout the morning. Cow bells literally clanged with each milestone: 100 gifts, 200 gifts, 300. At noon we realized we would reach 501 donors by the end of the workday. Luckily, another challenger stepped forward, and the stakes were raised. By midnight, we needed 750 donors for $75,000. More email updates were sent. Our volunteers were energized and communicated with fellow alumni that the bar was set higher.
Internally, Advancement staff was thrilled. We were so elated as we watched our young alumni step up to the Challenge that everyone in the division participated. Even staff who were not front-line fundraisers wanted to pitch in and make some phone calls. And the cow bell continued ring each time we reached another one hundred gifts.
At 8:00pm we surpassed 750 donors. Jaws dropped when the goal then became 1,000 for $100,000. Could we really secure another 250 donors in four hours!?
Within the next few hours, alumni streamed into our Pub Night venues with cash and credit cards in hand to give—no doubt thanks to another donor who promised to match all gifts made at the events themselves.
Every few minutes I was texting volunteers and staff at each venue with an update, and they provided me with a count of gifts. Donor numbers soared!
The cow bell rang one last time shortly before midnight when the 1,000th donor gave. In the end, 1,044 donors supported Skidmore in 24 hours—the most gifts the College has every received in a day.
 If you are interested in learning more about how we marketed and/or implemented the Challenge, please contact me at

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Corporate and Foundation Stewardship

I often receive wonderful questions from my readers (which now total an astonishing average of 5000 a week!) and from colleagues I have met at conferences near and far. This week I received a wonderful question from a former donor relations professional who has now moved into corps and founds work. Basically it boiled down to- how do I better steward corps and founds. The basic premise to my corps and founds philosophy is a simple one, the same way you steward individual donors, just in an enhanced manner. I started my development career as a grant writer writing things in 90 pages or less, in triplicate (I jest), and for faceless boards who would decide large grants. The thing is, corps and founds are not nameless faceless entities. A corporation or foundation is made up of people. Plain and simple. We steward people. We can steward corps and founds in much the same way.

Here are some examples:

1. Always write acknowledgments to not only the grant maker but also hand written notes to your contact at the corp go a long way as well, it's a relationship, just like any other that needs to be nurtured.
You need not reinvent the wheel here, many of the programs you have in place for individuals will work well for corps and founds with minor tweaks.

2. Invite corps and founds into your giving societies, especially cumulative ones. We did this with the Chevalier society at NYU Poly and the folks just loved attending events and being around our high net worth individuals and I received so many expressions of gratitude for not making them buy a table, building loyalty and appreciation.

3. Offer real impact of their giving. Not just in the required grant reporting and annual reports, but in real life. Have them meet students that benefit from their support, have lunch with faculty that are leaders in their field, etc.

4. Provide them unique access opportunities. Corporations are always looking for unique event space at low costs, your organizations and campuses are full of them. Make sure that your office or the events office is connected to their office of events and planning, it will be an invaluable relationship and mutually beneficial. Offer your leaders or faculty as facilitators or speakers for their retreats or meetings. This is expertise they would otherwise have to pay top dollar for and they will be most grateful of your thoughtfulness.

5. Have a sit down chat, especially if you are new, about the ways and names of those who should be recognized and how they would best like the recognition. Perhaps you have been sending invitations to people who no longer work there or have been ignoring their branding, this is a place where attention to detail is paramount and can build strong bridges  to the future.

6. Corporations embrace innovation and technology at in far more rapid and encompassing way than we do. Emails, blackberries and web based communications are king. Think of digitizing your invites and RSVP process, especially for this population,if you send the CEO paper invites they will get lost in a stack of thousands, and for that matter, executive assistants rule the earth. Be nice, know that they control your fate and embrace it.

7. Finally, remember that corps and founds are made up of individual people. As such they have different needs, cultures, personalities and methods. Adapt and change with each one in order to best meet their needs.

What have you done in this arena? What are your thoughts? I look forward to hearing from you soon.