How to Implement a Simple, Systematic Stewardship Process


If you’ve been in the fundraising field for a while, you no doubt know the importance of donor stewardship.  But with average donor retention at only 46% for U.S. charities (according to the 2015 edition of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project), there is clearly a lack of #donorlove taking place at most charities.

Why?  It’s hard to pinpoint an exact answer, but here’s my theory … While most established charities know the importance of stewardship, it’s hard to find the time to do it well.  And guess what?  No one ever gets in trouble for not doing stewardship.  You never find the time to write those thank you notes? No big deal.  Impact letters are three months behind schedule?  That’s okay.  As long as ASKs are going out and goals are being met, it doesn’t seem to matter.  But what you’re really doing is sabotaging your future fundraising efforts.  A lack of stewardship will prevent your donors from reaching their full lifetime value for your organization and will put you on a constant search for more donors, as your current ones move on to other causes.

So what’s the solution?  That’s easy … put stewardship on autopilot.  Here’s my simple, systematic stewardship process which ensures that EVERY donor receives at least three pieces of non-ask correspondence between donations.  These touches, combined with general correspondence (e.g. newsletters, event invitations, social media updates, etc.) should get you that magical number of seven (Penelope Burk’s research shows that donors expect seven non-ask touches between asks in order to not feel over-solicited).

The Components

  • The Crazy Speedy Personal Thank You

    A personal email (use a template) or hand written note sent to as low of a donation amount as you can handle.  If you can do it for all donors of $100+ you’re in good shape.  Here’s a sample:

    Dear Sally –

    Thank you so much for your recent donation to [insert name of charity]!
    You will receive a formal gift acknowledgment (for tax purposes) in the mail, but I wanted to personally reach out and thank you as soon as possible.
    Thank you again for your generous support of [insert mission of charity].

    With Gratitude, [insert name of fundraiser]

  • A Prompt Gift Acknowledgement Letter

    This is the piece that you are already doing (because the IRS requires you to do so).  It doesn’t have to be sent in 48 hours like many fundraising experts recommend.  That’s because the “Crazy Speedy Personal Thank You” bought you some time.  It should give all the particulars about their donation, have the required IRS tax language and talk about what you plan to accomplish with their support.  It’s one page, on letterhead, hand-signed, with a nice little “Thanks again!” scrawled on the bottom.

  • The Impact Letter

    This letter (or email, if and only if it was an online donation) should arrive halfway between the date of their donation and the date you plan to solicit them next (6 months for an annual appeal, 3 months for organizations that solicit twice per year, etc.).  This letter is similar to the gift acknowledgement in format and appearance; however, it doesn’t have any IRS mumbo jumbo.  It starts out with “It’s been six months since you so generously supported [name of charity], and we wanted to let you know what we’ve done with your support.”  It’s best written in the first person, telling a story about ONE specific person that benefitted from their support.  If you can include a photo of that person (or the project, or almost anything), even better.

Automating the System

Now that you know what to do, here’s how you actually do it.  You simply put these tasks in your task management system and set them up to repeat as indicated:

  • Every Day
    • Send crazy speedy personal thank yous (emails & hand-written notes)
  • Once a Week
    • Run gift acknowledgement letters (you get the efficiency of batch processing these since you already sent he crazy speedy personal thank you)
  • Once a Month
    • Run impact letters (these are not expected so again you can be efficient and batch process them)
  • Once Every 3 Months
    • Update your templates with new stories & organizational details

There you have it, a simple, systematic stewardship process that any charity can implement.  Sure, groups with bigger staffs can certainly do more.  But this simple system is far more than most charities do, and implementing it will help your organization stand out from the crowd and have far better than a 46% retention rate.  So give it some thought, don’t your donors deserve it?

Productive Fundraising: It’s Both WHAT You Do and HOW You Do It


Productivity is a two part process.  It requires the perfect balance of efficiency and effectiveness.  It’s not only the outcomes that matter, but also the process for reaching those outcomes.  It’s both WHAT you do, and HOW you do it.


As a professional fundraiser, there is a constant temptation, and sometimes expectation, to try to raise funds every way possible.  The suggestions come from everywhere:  articles, blogs, conferences, etc.  My favorite is the “helpful” (and insistent) board member …  “I’m involved with XYZ organization and they just held this great event that raised a lot of money, we’re going to do that too!”  Don’t get me started on non-strategic special events!  Regular readers of this blog know that I recommend holding no more than two big special events per year.  The flip side of this board member is the one that says “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” at every single meeting.  One wants to do the wrong thing and one doesn’t want to try anything new at all.

So what’s the problem with these two mindsets?  Whether you try every tactic possible, or try nothing new at all, you will get the same result … mediocrity.  Things will be fine, but you’ll never really fulfill your mission and change the world.  You’ll be stuck in slow growth mode or maybe even stagnancy.

So how do you do better than mediocre?  The key is to figure out what will work best for your organization, and to do it well … really well.   Buy how? In my opinion, the number one skill for today’s fundraiser is the desire to always be learning.  Read every day … make it a priority.  Keep up with the latest trends.  Attend industry leading conferences.  Expose yourself to other sectors and see what’s working there.  Then bring those ideas back to your office and apply them to your work … INNOVATE.

But don’t just blindly innovate, you have to test what you put into place.  Is it really working, or is does it just make your organization look good?  Charities don’t fulfill their missions by looking good … they do it by raising vital funds and delivering programmatic results.  So, make a commitment to innovation.  Try one or two new strategies at a time.  Keep the ones that work and kill the ones that don’t.  After a few development cycles, you’ll find a few strategies that really elevate your fundraising and charity to the next level.  And you’ll get really good at saying “NO” to the things that you know will take you back  down to the land of mediocrity.


Something must also be said for HOW you work.  Are you an efficient worker?  If meeting your goals requires that you put in 60 hour weeks every single week, there’s a problem.  It could be unrealistic expectations or it could be bad work habits.  It’s most likely a combination of both.  By being in touch with your personal productivity habits and constantly seeking ways to improve them, you can take back your life and still be an effective fundraiser.

Developing a personal productivity system that you can trust is a key to success (and sanity).  Managing time, email and social media use are also key skills.  You also need to know how to limit and maximize meetings, travel smart and properly integrate your work and home lives.  And finally, you have to do it all with a great attitude by managing your mood and energy level.

And let’s not forget … you have to actually leave the office to meet with donors, network and build the pipeline.

This has been my framework for success in the nonprofit sector: constant innovation (and testing) with a major focus (okay, addiction) on working efficiently.  All of my blog posts center around these topics and if you’d like a deeper dive, I invite you to join me on the Productive Fundraising Weekly Journey.  Happy fundraising!

This post first appeared on August 3, 2015.

Stewardship Calls: Are They Worth Your Effort?


Every fundraiser knows that stewardship calls boost donor retention and engagement. But it’s always been difficult to find hard data to support that claim. Stewardship calls are also a great way to involve reluctant board members in the fundraising process. But there’s always that one board member that wants to see the data that proves it works before they’ll join in the effort.

Thankfully, the folks at Sumac recently published a blog post titled “The Incredible Power of The Phone: 3 Nonprofit Case Studies and a 400% increase in Donations!.” In this post they compile research from Penelope Burk, The Thistle Foundation and HJC Nonprofit Consulting to show the impact of stewardship calls. Here’s the data:

  • Board members calling to thank donors increases donations by 39%;
  • Staff calling to update donors increases donations by 41%;
  • Staff calling to encourage event participants increases pledge donations by 400%.

Now that you have hard numbers backed up by research, what board member is going to turn you down when you ask them to make thank you calls?  Yes, they will still want a script — so here’s a free sample one from us:  

And what about those staff calling numbers? I hope you’re seriously considering making some calls yourself … especially to provide impact updates and encourage your peer to peer event participants.

Regardless of who does it, the key is to pick up the phone. It may no longer be a great solicitation tool, but it definitely still has its place in the fundraising world.

Are You Sure You Want to Publish an Annual Report?


Here’s a typical scenario that most fundraisers go through every year … It happens about six weeks after your fiscal year end close. The numbers are finalized and it’s time to let your donors know how you did. What’s your go to delivery device? That’s right, for most of you it’s the nonprofit annual report. The dreaded nonprofit annual report.

It’s the piece that every development director hates to write and every donor hates to read. The development director feels like they have to publish one (“because everyone else does”) and the donor feels like they have to read it (“because the staff went to so much trouble to write it”). No one really wins in this situation, it’s extra work for no real value. Yes, you may educate your donors a bit, but there is far better use for that time than compiling a lengthy report (like actually meeting with them face to face).

Yes, you need to report out on your results. You need to show how your organization pushed the needle forward thanks to the generous, loyal support of your donors. But you DON’T need to send an annual report. Especially not the typical eight to twelve page annual report with lots of text in small font, pie charts and an honor roll of donors. Donors don’t read this and for the most part don’t care about (or want) their name to be published anyway. I’ve heard this directly from them, time and time again, in donor focus groups for all types of causes.

So what should you do instead? I advocate publishing an annual report postcard. It’s a simple piece that highlights a few key statistics from the year, VISUALLY SHOWS impact and thanks your donors. That’s it … no boring paragraphs of text, no pie charts, no giant list of donors.

Here’s a sample of one I’ve created in the past:


The back isn’t pictured, but it simply says “Thank you for your loyal support. Because of you, the arts are thriving in our region. We appreciate you and wanted to let you know the impact of your ongoing support. Thanks again!”
This is printed in large font to fill the back of the postcard along with a few logos of corporate supporters (just the ones that actually want that).

This project takes a minimal amount of staff time, is quick (inexpensive) for a graphic designer to compile and is affordable to print and mail. That’s quite a few wins on several different fronts. The biggest win? Donors love receiving them! I’ve even seen annual report postcards hung up on the fridge when I show up for a donor visit!

So scrap that annual report and do something more productive and effective: publish an annual report postcard. Just don’t spend that saved time in your email inbox … get out there and meet with your donors.

Productive Fundraising In Action: Michael J. Rosen

For this month’s edition of Productive Fundraising in action, I interviewed my fellow Pennsylvanian and fundraising guru Michael J. Rosen, President of ML Innovations, Inc. Let’s dig in …

What personal productivity technique has had the most impact on your career?

In any given moment, I try to do the most important thing. Depending on the moment, that might mean writing a planned-giving marketing plan, preparing for a training, or just relaxing. Related to this, I also try to take care of the tasks I hate the most first (assuming they’re important) in order to get them out of the way so they’re not hanging over my head.

Why did you choose this specific technique over any others that you may use?

I’m a natural born procrastinator. I have to always fight against that tendency. Staying focused on doing the most important thing at any moment helps me stay on course.

Do you have a favorite tool that helps you stay productive?

If I had to choose just one productivity tool, I’d have to say it’s my laptop. I’m definitely not a technology expert, but I know enough about my laptop (and smartphone) to be very useful.

Do you have a favorite productivity book, system or expert that you look to for guidance?

No. I’ve focused my energies on growing as a fundraiser and a marketer. I haven’t focused too much on finely honing my personal productivity skills. At this point in my career, it’s not such a big problem. However, early on, I certainly could have benefited from knowing more about productivity. It would have saved me from learning the hard way.

Chad’s Two Cents

Michael has some great tips on beating procrastination. The MIT (Most Important Task) theory is preached throughout productivity circles. I don’t preach it because I don’t do it (and I only preach what I practice). I personally prefer a warm up with some administrative tasks before I get to my key items — but that’s just me. Personal productivity is just that … personal.

Michael’s last point is key. While he doesn’t give us productivity book, system or expert, what he says is very telling: “I’ve focused my energies on growing as a fundraiser.” There’s definitely such a thing as focusing too much on productivity (and yours truly may be guilty of this). There’s a balance … you need to focus on your craft (fundraising) AND refining that craft (productivity).

Michael J. Rosen is President of ML Innovations, Inc. ML Innovations provides a broad-range of ethics, fundraising, and marketing consulting services and training programs for nonprofit organizations throughout the USA. Fundraising specialties include annual giving, planned giving, telephone fundraising, and donor retention.  You can learn more about Michael (and pick up some great fundraising tips) via his blog, Michael Rosen Says.

How to Write a Simple, Effective Fundraising Plan


This post originally appeared on the Social Hubsite blog.

Research has shown that one of the top indicators of fundraising success in a nonprofit organization is whether or not the organization has a fundraising plan.  It doesn’t matter what’s in that plan, simply having one leads to more effective fundraising, period.  This is because any plan, even a sub par one, will promote proactive rather than reactive fundraising.

But lots of nonprofits don’t have a fundraising plan.  There are plenty of excuses: it seems to onerous to put one together, they don’t know where to begin or because “they aren’t a fundraising expert.”  Well, I’m here to say that ANYONE can put together a fundraising plan.  It doesn’t need to be 20 page document and you certainly don’t have to be a fundraising expert.  Here’s my easy three-step process for writing a simple, effective fundraising plan (in an afternoon):

Step 1: Evaluate

You can’t write a fundraising plan without first looking at where you currently are.  Finding out what is working and what isn’t is definitely the first step.  However, fundraising produces a lot of data and you can waste a lot of time over-analyzing it.  So the key is to track and analyze just the few key metrics that will provide you with clear insight.  Personally I track 10 metrics, here they are …

The best fundraising analysis tool that I have found is James M. Greenfield’s Nine-Point Fundraising Performance Index.  The index can and should be used to evaluate all solicitation methods for a charity.  As James puts it “Each of these nine elements is, in itself, an indicator of performance success.  Together they provide more than adequate detail to allow not-for-profit organizations to interpret their results and estimate future income with reliability based on how well each solicitation method has proven its mix of ingredients for success.”  You can learn more about this tool (and download my free excel spreadsheet that makes it simple to put into use) via my blog post, Evaluate, But Don’t Over-Analyze.

The tenth metric that I track, and perhaps the most important one of all, is the organization’s overall donor retention rate.  My easy definition for donor retention rate is “How many donors that gave two years ago, gave again last year?”  The US national average is 46% according to the 2015 edition of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project; however, it’s not that hard to do significantly better than this with a bit of effort.  This is the number that you’re really looking to improve because it’s far easier to keep the donors that you already have than it is to find new ones.

Step 2: Plan (simply)

Now it’s time to review your data.  Simply look at the results of each fundraising strategy (e.g. direct mail, special events, face to face asks, email solicitations, etc.) and ask, “Is this something that I want to stop doing, do less of, continue at the current level, or do more of?”  Pay close attention to that ROI (return on investment) metric.  Ask “Is it really worth doing this, or are we just doing it because we have always done it?”

You also need to add some new strategies.  I recommend two per year.  As a fundraiser you should always be on the search for new ideas.  Keeping up with the news and attending conferences will provide plenty of ideas.  But the best way?  Read … every single day.  Keep an idea bank of these great strategies throughout the year, when it comes time to put together a plan simply pick your two favorites.  Here’s a few more thoughts on fundraising innovation and why I say you need TWO new ideas each year (not one, not five, TWO).

Now you are ready to put the actual document together.  This is where most folks get bogged down.  It doesn’t have to be a 20 page text heavy document.  In fact, I’m going to share my Simplified Fundraising Plan template with you (for free).  It’s really quite simple, for each strategy (“What we will do”) you need to list the following:

  • Rationale (“Why are we doing it?”) – 1 sentence
  • (Simple)Plan (“How will we do it?”) – 1 paragraph
  • Timetable (“When will we do it?”) – 1 date
  • Responsible Parties (“Who will do it?”) – 1 person
  • Projected Expense – 1 number
  • Projected Income – 1 number

As you’ll see in the FREE Simplified Fundraising Plan template, I find that a table for each strategy along with the some general data in the beginning is all you need. Don’t over-complicate it.  No one is going to read a verbose fundraising plan.  They just want to know what to do to raise the dollars.

One additional key tip here … IMPROVING DONOR RETENTION MUST BE A STRATEGY!  This means a focus on stewardship should be a key strategy in your plan … not an afterthought.  Boosting donor retention by just 3% next year would have a huge impact on your bottom line.

Step 3: Systematize

Once your plan is written, the final step is to put it into action.  A lot of times this doesn’t happen and the plan just languishes on the shelf.  Out of habit, we stay in reactive fundraising mode (responding to opportunities as they come along) instead of proactive fundraising mode (actively seeking new opportunities with a known highest return on investment).  Plenty of opportunities will come along to keep you busy, they just may not be the smartest use of your time.

There are two foolproof options to put your plan into action:

  • Make it someone’s job (have someone review the plan weekly and prompt the responsible parties to take action);
  • Transfer the tasks into your task/project management system.

There you have it a simple, effective fundraising plan that is based on data, clearly outlines the necessary steps for growth and provides a means of putting those necessary steps on autopilot.  That’s all you need … not a 20 page plan.  As long as you have good data to start with, a fundraising plan can easily be put together in one interruption free afternoon (hint: don’t try to do it in your office).  So download the template and get started today.

Productive Fundraising In Action: Alice Ferris, CFRE, ACFRE

For this edition of Productive Fundraising IN ACTION, we get to peek into the inner workings of fundraising superstar Alice Ferris, CFRE, ACFRE. Alice is a Partner with GoalBusters Consulting out of Flagstaff, AZ. Let’s see how Alice stays productive …

What personal productivity technique has had the most impact on your career?

Setting a morning ritual: I start the day with a short meditation session, a short yoga routine, then spend no more than 30 minutes updating social media, and breakfast (or at least coffee). I try to stick to this even when on the road (200+ days a year!), which is sometimes unsuccessful, but I always do the meditation, at minimum.

Why did you choose this specific technique over any others that you may use?

We live in a non-stop, constant input world, and I need to give myself a little space to clear my mind and make room for new ideas and creativity. Plus, it helps me stay a little bit more physically balanced.

Do you have a favorite tool that helps you stay productive?

I’m constantly trying out new tools, so this is my answer of the moment! I’m using SaneBox and ActiveInbox to manage my constant deluge of emails, which helps me get to Inbox Zero, usually daily. I also use Trello to manage my to do list, augmented by Google Reminders. My other favorites are ScheduleOnce, which allows people to schedule themselves for conference calls on my calendar, and FancyHands, a virtual assistant that takes care of random stuff that I don’t have time for or just don’t want to do myself. Plus, I always have a notepad from some random hotel on my desk for the miscellaneous thoughts.

Do you have a favorite productivity book, system or expert that you look to for guidance?

Again, I don’t have just one. My Trello boards are based on a model from Asian Efficiency (how’s that for conforming to a stereotype?). I also follow, to some degree, Marie Kondo’s KonMari system for tidying up in both my physical environment and my calendar.

Chad’s Two Cents

Wow, talk about a productivity geek’s dream interview. Alice mentions so many great tools … and some that I haven’t even tried (yet)!

Alice’s morning ritual is key. You need to make sure there is time for YOU in each and every day. By taking a few minutes in the morning to center yourself and prepare for what lies ahead, you will be far less stressed and better able to tackle the day’s challenges. I too have a morning routine and while mine centers more on learning, caffeinating and hydrating, it has the same effect. Both Alice and I emotionally centered and ready for the day by the time we finish our ritual/routine.

Alice and I use a very different set of productivity tools, but are both highly organized type A folks that balance a lot of different commitments. This further proves that it’s not the tool that matters, it’s the process and thought behind it. Find a personal productivity system that works for you, then find the tools that support it (not the other way around).

Finally, thanks to Alice for finally getting me to pull Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way to Banish Clutter Forever” off my shelf and give it a read. I’m about a third of the way through and I can already tell it’s worth the time.

Alice is a Partner with GoalBusters Consulting. GoalBusters Consulting supports small to medium-sized nonprofit organizations throughout North America with strategic planning, development assessments, training and outsourced development services.

Fundraising Isn’t Rocket Science, But It Demands Willpower


“So, what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a fundraiser.”

“You mean you ask people for money? I could never do that.”

Does this conversation sound familiar? I typically have this conversation at least once a week … usually at a networking function with local business executives. What I find most ironic is that it’s typically a sales executive that is saying it, and guess what? We’re pretty much using the same skill set and process, just with some different nuance. I like to say that fundraising is simply sales for a higher cause than profit. But they don’t see it that way. It’s like they think fundraising is some kind of impossible rocket science that they could never master.

Well, the good news is that fundraising isn’t rocket science. There is a large body of best practices for fundraising success that anyone can learn. At its core, every component of successful fundraising comes down to:

1) Developing relationships; AND,
2) Creating and implementing the systems that make sure those relationships get built.

The key is that you have to do both #1 and #2. You have to do them both well. And you have to do them both at the same time. If you just develop relationships then there is no follow through or end goal. If you just develop systems and hang out in your database all day then you aren’t out developing relationships. You need both. You need to do them both well. At the same time.

But that’s it, period. Sure there are lots of other things that you CAN do to boost fundraising returns, but this is all that you HAVE to do. It’s definitely not rocket science, but it is difficult to master. It’s difficult because it takes a ton of willpower and persistence to keep pushing forward. This is especially true in small shops where there’s no one there to encourage you or to check in on your progress on a daily basis. The success all rides on you.

That’s where passion comes in. Working to raise dollars for a cause that you are incredibly passionate about often times doesn’t feel like work. And if it doesn’t feel like work, then that willpower is a heck of a lot easier to muster.

My new favorite response when someone says “You mean you ask people for money? I could never do that” is “Why, it isn’t rocket science … I just develop relationships for a cause that I’m deeply passionate about.” This typically leads into a much deeper conversation about philanthropy and civic duty and gets us back to what we should be doing a networking event, finding common ground.

“So, what do you do for a living?” …

Productive Fundraising In Action: Beth Brodovsky


For this edition of Productive Fundraising In Action I interviewed Beth Brodovsky, President of Iris Creative Group. I’ve seen Beth present at multiple fundraising workshops and conferences. She’s always on her game. So, lets dig in and see what she does on a daily basis to make that happen …

What one personal productivity technique has had the most impact on your career?

Taking action right away.

Why did you choose this specific technique over any others that you may use?

Delaying decisions has caused me many more problems than making the wrong decision.

Do you have a favorite productivity book, system or expert that you look to for guidance?

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

Summary (Chad’s Two Cents)

Beth’s answers were short and to the point, but boy did she strike a chord with me. Taking decisive action is something that I occasionally struggle with and something that nonprofits in general are horrible at doing. I wrote a blog post on this a few weeks back … Fundraisers Need to Stop Meeting & Start Deciding. Sometimes we just need to take the plunge. The repercussions are often no where near as bad as we think they are.

Beth’s book recommendation is a great one. I have not read it cover to cover (it’s somewhere on my kindle wishlist), but I’ve heard Greg McKeown interviewed several times by other productivity gurus. He preaches “essentialism” which is somewhat like minimalism, but more about commitments and energy and less about stuff. One of the key premises is that you can do more by doing less. The key is maximizing your potential on things that matter to you and your dreams, not on things that matter only to other people.

Beth Brodovsky serves as President of Iris Creative. Iris Creative Group helps organizations get focused in order to drive participation. They specialize in discovering the perfect audience for their clients and developing communications that inspire them to action.

7 Productivity Tips That Will Transform Your Fundraising


This post originally appeared on the Bloomerang blog.

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.

Read More: How to Make Sure Donor Visits Actually Happen

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.

Read More: How to Make Sure Donor Visits Actually Happen

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.

Read More: How to Conquer Your Email | Schedule Your Tasks Based on Your Energy Level

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.

Read More: How to Avoid Meetings and Maximize Those You Can’t

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.

Read More: How to Write 3 Minute Thank You Notes | The Secret to Sending Prompt Thank You Notes

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, but start with these and send me a tweet (@cebarger) to tell me know how it goes!