As many of you return from conferences, brains overloaded and chock full of new ideas, enthusiasm renewed by the energy of others; I hope you'll take this time to listen to me contemplate what I miss most about the small/solo shop days of donor relations for me. I hope some of you can relate. When I first started in donor relations, it was me against the world, some of you know exactly what I'm talking about. Others of you haven't experienced donor relations without a staff but can learn a great deal from those solo warriors. I longingly look back on those days with a sense of nostalgia and look for clues and hints I can apply to my work as a leader of a team and a member of a development staff of over 100. Here are some of my thoughts:
1. Nimble: being a small or one person shop makes you nimble and agile, you have more freedom to implement new ideas and react quickly, meeting changing donor needs without reinventing the wheel and causing a systematic and bureaucratic shift.
2. Lacking resources makes you more creative: when I had zero budget, no advocates, and no seat at the table, I believe that necessity was the mother of all invention, hence my love affair with technology, I was always looking for better, faster, cheaper, simply out of necessity and the drive to change my workload
3. Managing people is hard work: I was recently helping on another campus down south (thanks for the grits!) and someone asked me what's the hardest thing I do, it's manage people. If done well, it takes a great deal of time and effort, and sometimes I find it draining and wish there was an easier way. The fact remains that there isn't an easier way I miss the days when I had to a mange myself and navigate political waters, the higher up you go, the more directions you mange in. I thrill and excite from the doing and the helping, the strategy and the execution, at times the management waters make me feel like I'm only treading until the next wave. And lord help the person who has to manage me... :)
4. Time management: when I was a one person shop, I was much more effective with my time. It was calendared, organized and transparent, meetings with my department, uhm myself, were quick and effective. I often lost arguments with myself, but that's another story for another day. Now, I often am torn between attending a meeting (and believe me i'm happy to be invited) that becomes a time suck and implementing my strategies. It's a tough balance and something we don't spend enough time on professional development wise, (looks like an upcoming webinar is forming here) but it is crucial to our success.
5. Bigger isn't always better: take giving societies for example, just because you have 20 of them, doesn't mean they have meaning or benefit to your donors, simplifying is often the right direction. I have 4 and some days that's all a staff of 6 can do to keep them afloat successfully. Also your staff and leadership is more accessible, take advantage seek out their opinions and time. For those of you on large campuses, now is the time to get out there and make sure people know who you are and what you do... Which is hard when there are 200 development officers, but it can be done!
This returns back to my old conference motto...
Instead of implementing all of your takeaways now, improve one thing, do it well, turn it into great and then move on to the next. Easy victories are still victories, I'll take a quick win over the status quo every day of the year. Find what you can improve and get to work, saving the large battles and epic Homerian wars for later, otherwise you get bogged down.
And finally for those of you who are like me blessed to have staff, take time to appreciate it, (even when everyone calls in sick) and also reach out to share and lend a hand to those who don't have writers, editors, events people, coordinators and assistant directors. Share your resources and help teach them the way. Someone did that for me when I first started and I'm still grateful for the development community that is so willing to help.
I would love to hear your thoughts.