As a self-proclaimed “productivity geek, I’m often asked by clients or presentation attendees for “the one productivity hack that they can implement to transform their fundraising.” Well, it’s hard to pick just one, but here are seven that each would have a huge impact. If you implement all of them you will definitely reach a whole new level of success, but even putting just one or two into play will have a transformative effect on your fundraising results (and sanity).
1) Block Time for Donor Visits
When a fundraising program is floundering the typical cause is that they are not spending enough time with their donors. I’ve found that the problem typically doesn’t center around not knowing how to request a donor visit, but rather not setting aside the time to actually go on them. Let’s face it, donor visits are time-consuming and unless you are proactive about designating time solely for them, your calendar will fill up with “urgent” but less important tasks.
So how do I personally address this? I block time on my calendar, every week, for donor visits. You should do the same, but first you need to do some math to see how much time you need.
Personally, my current goal is to do 100 donor visits per year. If I do visits 40 weeks out of the year (factoring in vacation time, holiday weeks, the weeks before special events, etc.), that works out to 2.5 visits per week. Factoring in travel time, I allow 2 hours per donor visit so I am never rushed. That means I need 5 hours per week reserved on my calendar for donor visits. I have learned when I am the least effective in the office and I use that time for my visits. For me this is Wednesday afternoon. I literally have that day blocked on my calendar for donor visits — no one is allowed to schedule anything else during that time. If there’s something I have to go do during that time then I shift my calendar and reschedule that donor visit time for another time period that same week.
2) Block Time for Requesting Donor Visits
But blocking time for donor visits isn’t enough. You also need to block the time to request these donor visits. I’ve found that every donor visit will also require about 30 minutes of time to request and coordinate it (factoring in my visit request success rate of 50%). So if I want to do 2.5 donor visits per week, I also need to block 75 minutes on my schedule to request these visits, every week. I prefer to break this up (it helps with the back and forth emails), so I dedicate 15 minutes every morning (from 6:45 to 7am specifically) for donor visit requests. I typically send out three new requests every day and follow-up on the ones that were sent previously.
3) Only Reply to Non-Urgent Email Once Per Day
One of the best ways to spend less of your day on email is to only reply to non-urgent email once a day. Spending a few minutes replying to email a couple of times each day doesn’t sound terribly inefficient, but it creates a problem: the email boomerang effect. Each one of those emails you send will most likely produce a reply. The more you send, the more you get back. Often times, you can have 5+ emails back and forth with the same person on the same topic in one day. By only responding once a day, you avoid this scenario.
I recommend starting out by scheduling 60 minutes on your calendar every day to reply to email. Eventually you should be able to get this down to 30 minutes. When should you reply to email? That’s easy … use your low energy time of day.
4) Turn Off All Notifications
I don’t think anything has been more disruptive to personal productivity in the past decade than the explosion of device notifications. Every device that we use now has the built-in capability to distract us and command our attention whenever it wants. And the worst part is that the default setting for these notifications is ON. You need to change this ASAP and change your personal default setting to OFF.
The only thing that should be allowed to distract you and bring you out of your work flow should be things that are truly urgent and must be addressed immediately. My guess is that 95% of the notifications that you receive during your day do not meet this criteria. Almost anything can wait an hour. So take a few minutes to turn off your phone notifications, email notifications and social media notifications on all of your devices and computers. Basically anything that dings, flashes or warbles should be turned off so it doesn’t break your concentration while you’re doing important work.
5) Never Have the Same Meeting Twice
Spending your time in internal meetings is not the best use of time for a fundraiser. We need to be out of the office interacting with our donors as much as possible. But there are those unavoidable meetings that we simply have to attend or just can’t seem to find a way to avoid.
If you get stuck in a meeting, make sure something comes out of it. The easiest way to do this is to be the action points guy or girl. As the meeting is wrapping up, ask “Can we take a second to summarize what we’ve agreed to and who will do what by when? This simple question ensures that someone takes accountability for results and that the attendees didn’t all just waste 45 minutes of their day. And even more importantly, it prevents you from having the same exact meeting next month.
6) Put Your Thank Notes on Autopilot
We all know we should send hand-written thank you notes — especially after meeting with a donor or prospect for the first time. But its easy to forget to do so or for the task to keep getting shoved down your to do list.
So, what’s the solution? Put your thank you notes on autopilot. Keep a set of thank you notes and pre-stamped envelopes with you at all times (in your briefcase, car, purse, etc.). Immediately after a meeting, do not create an electronic reminder to send a follow up note. These reminders inevitably seem to get postponed so many times that they become late and ultimately obsolete. Instead, at the very moment you think of it, reach in your bag, grab a ready-to-mail card and complete it. The details of your message will be fresh in your mind and it will be effortless. If you struggle with what to write, here’s my guide to writing three sentence, three minute thank you notes.
One additional tactic that I often use is to pre-address the thank you note while I’m waiting to go into a meeting and lay it on the passenger seat of my car. Then it’s the first thing I see upon returning to my car after the meeting and it’s easy to quickly rattle it off. When I get back to my office or home it is immediately dropped in the outgoing mail.
7) Read Every Day
While most fundraisers don’t want to hear it, nothing will transform your fund development efforts more than fresh, new, innovative ideas. How you get those? There is not better or more inexpensive way than by reading. Read EVERY day.
My key tip here is to always have reading material with you. Read during all those little wasted moments during the day. By this I mean times like waiting in the lobby to go into an appointment, during your commute or while waiting for a meeting to start.
I always have reading material with me. My reading stack is kept in my briefcase (not on my desk). And I use a free service called Pocket which lets me save articles (usually blog posts) online that I’d like to read later. Don’t waste this time … use it to innovate … READ!
There you have it … my top 7 personal productivity tips for fundraisers. There are lots more at productivefundraising.com, but start with these and send me a tweet (@cebarger) to tell me know how it goes!