Information Overload:  A Strategy to Help You Cope (Cal Newport)

Information Overload: A Strategy to Help You Cope (Cal Newport)

Wow … there’s so much news these days.

It’s been coming at us faster than we can consume it since at least March.  And it’s exhausting!

And then there’s all the blogs, videos, articles, virtual summits, etc. about how to pivot our fundraising strategy for the “new normal.”  Who else already hates that term?

How do you stay sane?  How you get what you need and then turn off the spigot?

One of my favorite productivity gurus, Cal Newport, had a great post with an actionable strategy on this a few months back.  I’ve been saving it to share with you all at the right time.  I think that’s now. 

There seems to be a slight information lull right now (normally due to summer vacations, but I think lots of folks are just taking a much needed mental break).  So let’s take advantage and tweak our information consumption so we’re not overwhelmed when the cycle picks back up late next month.  I have this strategy about half implemented and it’s already helping.  Intrigued?  Give it a read …

On Digital Minimalism and Pandemics (Cal Newport)

How to Deal with Emotion and Empathy Fatigue (Veritus Group)

How to Deal with Emotion and Empathy Fatigue (Veritus Group)

Every once in a while I come across an article that demands more than just a retweet or facebook share.  These articles are must reads and can really have a big impact on your fundraising and/or your productivity.    It’s been a while since I’ve found one (I blame the pandemic), but this article by the Veritus Group the other week really hit home for me. 

We’ve been doing pandemic fundraising for a while now, and it’s not going to stop anytime soon.  So it’s time to own that and make the tactical and mental adjustments necessary.  But how when we’re already so emotionally fatigued?

Give this a read, you won’t regret it:  How to Deal with Emotion and Empathy Fatigue

5 Quick Tips for Working from Home More Effectively

5 Quick Tips for Working from Home More Effectively

I know many of us are working from home for the first time, or at least more consistently, certainly than usual. I too found myself in this situation about five years ago. I was working in a local non-profit organization and they moved completely to virtual offices. So, we went from having a physical office to all becoming work-from-home employees – cold turkey. And I too was excited at first but then found some challenges. So I have five tips to help you get through these challenging times. And hopefully, try to get a little bit of work done in the process.

Set Up Dedicated Spaces

Just like during your normal work day in your office, don’t stay at the same place all day. You might work at your desk, then have a meeting in the conference room, then go to lunch, then go out on a donor visit…whatever it is, there’s variety. That helps our brain focus. It answers the “What mode should I be in at this time?” question. So, now we’re at our houses, but you can still do that within your house. So maybe I read in a chair, I do Zoom calls in at this table, I do concentrated work up in the guest bedroom. Moving around can really help you to kind of break up that day, and provide some variety and some interest — all of which will help you focus.

Time Block Your Day

Consider dedicating a certain portion of each day to doing specific tasks. Maybe project work, email, social media, etc. You’ll have to learn when you are most effective, when you have the most energy, when you can concentrate the best, or maybe even when you know your distractions are going to be less. Because we’re all dealing with things like…

“Dad, I’m hungry.”

Or…

“Chad, we’re out of wine.”

But we know that these things are going to happen. So when can you get that concentrated work in and can you have an agreement with your housemates. Perhaps saying “Okay, I need two hours of concentrated time and the rest of the day I can just kind of get in what I need to get done.” We’re all adapting but time blocking can help you do that.

Put On a Uniform

Put some real clothes on! Don’t just go bumming around in house clothes. It doesn’t have to be formal work clothes. I’m not asking everybody to put on a suit or a dress at home, but do pick something that tells you you’re in work mode. I have a rule of no sweatpants after 9:00 AM, if it’s a work day at home. I can get my day started, I can do some reading, but at some point I’ve got to get ready. I have to put on clothes that would be presentable to leave the house and that kind of tells my brain, “Okay, now we’re in work mode. It’s time to be effective.” Try it … it works.

Get Outside

We can’t forget about self care in these times. A lot of us are missing something very important now that we don’t have our commutes: decompression time. The commute for a lot of people is the time that our brain and body needs to switch between work and home. And that is important for self care. It lets us separate things, gives us that buffer, that margin, that time to breathe. So just getting outside and going for a walk, sitting out in your yard, going out on a balcony, just getting a little breath of fresh air can provide some of that mental break. What do you do on the walk? I love to listen to podcasts, but sometimes I just need the turn off the input and let my mind wander, let it synthesize everything I’ve been thinking about. So give yourself that freedom to do what your brain needs at that time.

Give Yourself Some Grace

Give yourself some grace, and accept that we are in a transitional period. This is a new normal for us. It’s okay if we don’t always have the most productive days. Don’t beat yourself up over that, take baby steps! Try to get a little better each day and at the end of each day sit back and reflect. What worked today? What didn’t? I know for my family, we didn’t start out with a schedule. That just led to fighting and other problems. And then we tried to do a structured schedule and that was too much structure for us. We were stressed by the schedule. Now we’re adapting into this blended mode where we have things we can do and things we actually need to do. You can do that same thing with your work schedule and how you’re getting your work done in these times.

Block Time for Donor Visits (and for Scheduling Them)

Donor visits are the one fundraising technique that we all know we should be doing, but they’re so hard to pull off on a consistent basis. 

There are just so many demands on our time, and donor visits take us out of the office and away from other activities.  We must have dedicated time to do them! But, especially if you’re running a small shop, it’s just so hard to find that time.

So here’s what I did as a small shop fundraiser and what I encourage my clients to do: block time on your calendar each and every week for donor visits

Now, you need to do a little math. I like to allow 2 hours for a donor visit, including travel time. How many do you need to do each month? Multiply that number by 2 (2 hours per visit), now divided it by 4 (4 weeks per month). The result is how many hours each week you should block for donor visits.

So for me, that was four hours per week. I typically split that into two, 2-hour blocks spread throughout the week. And I always liked to schedule these for when I was least effective in the office.  For me, that’s mid-to-late afternoon time. So, I blocked Monday and Wednesday late afternoons as recurring appointments, marked as busy, so nothing else can be scheduled during that time.  It is a time I held sacred for donor visits.

Did all my visits happen on Monday and Wednesday afternoons? No, of course not. But I had held that time so I had the margin and wiggle room to move other things around to accommodate them. You can’t schedule donor visits if your calendar is already full.

But, is that good enough? If you just have that time blocked and you go through the everyday hustle and bustle of your job, you’ll get to the next week (and your donor visit time block) and you’ll still be in the office. That’s because you didn’t take the time to actually scheduled those donor visits.  So, the other key thing that I recommend is to have a time block set aside for scheduling donor visits each and every week. I have always had a half-hour time block where I was simply sending emails, making phone calls, and following-up, to try to get those donor visits scheduled for the next few weeks.

That’s the key to make this (or almost anything) happen — you have to set aside the time and protect it from other less important, yet still “urgent” items.  Now, quit reading this and make some contacts so you can get out of the office and have those visits that we know are so effective!

How to Find Time to Read as a Busy Fundraiser

I’m often asked by nonprofit board members, “What’s the most important skill to look for in potential fundraising staff?”  My answer is always the same … a relentless passion for learning.  A successful fundraiser always needs to be seeking new ideas and improving their fundraising knowledge base.  One of the best ways to acquire this knowledge is through reading.  There are so many great books, magazines, and blogs dedicated to nonprofit fundraising.  But many fundraisers state that finding the time to actually read is quite difficult.

So, here are six tips for fitting more reading into your daily schedule

1) Keep a list of what you want to read

When you hear about a great book or article, make a note of it.  I add books I hear about to my online wish lists (either on Amazon or Blinkist).  When it comes time to look for new reading material, I have a list and don’t have to waste time browsing.  I can use that time for actual reading.  [If you’re starting from scratch, here are my favorites: @fundraiserchad’s top book recommendations]

2) Save posts & articles to read later

When I’m spending time on social media, I do my best to get in and get out.  I don’t read articles or follow link trails (well … at least I try not to do so … darn memes).  But our fellow fundraisers post lots of great content that I do want to read at some point.  That’s where Pocket comes in.  Pocket is a service that lets me save articles for later (in my Pocket app).  Then when I have a few minutes (e.g. sitting in waiting room before an appointment, standing in line to board a plane, before a donor meeting, etc.), I can read these articles — on ANY of my devices at ANY time.  It’s like having your TO READ pile with you at all times, but without the clutter or the weight.

3) Stop reading if you aren’t getting value

If you start reading something and it’s not what you thought it would be, STOP.  There is no rule that says you have to finish what you start reading.  We aren’t in grade school anymore.  We choose what we read.  This is especially important with books.  Reading an entire book is a big commitment – make sure it’s worth your time.  I will admit that I only finish about half the books that I start reading.  Once I can tell that I’m not going to get enough value out of it to justify the time, I’m done.  It’s that simple.

4) Read during all those little moments of extra time

Surround yourself with things to read.  Fill your Pocket with articles.  Keep books and magazines that you want to read on your coffee table, desk, night stand.  Keep reading material in your briefcase and in your suitcase.  Make sure you are never in a situation where you have time to read, but nothing to read.  Then instead of hopping on Facebook on your phone when you have a spare minute or two, pull up something to read.  Even if you only read a page, you are making progress and being inspired.  Don’t let these little moments go to waste, they add up.

5) Schedule a lunch with yourself

When I have something that I really want to read, like a book written by my favorite speaker at a conference or the latest edition of AFP’s Advancing Philanthropy, I schedule lunch with it.  I literally go to my calendar, find an open lunch slot, and plug in “Meeting | Advancing Philanthropy.”  It’s a lunch date, with reading material.  The key is that it is blocked from any other commitments (and it looks like a real meeting to the folks that have access to my calendar).  It’s a great way to make progress on beefier items which really require time to digest (puns intended).

6) Try audiobooks, podcasts or book summaries (especially in the car) 

Driving is one of the least productive uses of time, but you can change this.  Listening to audiobooks or podcasts is a great option.  Almost any book is available in audiobook format these days and there are countless podcast options — even a few about fundraising.  You can also turn up the speed on audiobook or podcast apps to have them play at 1.5x or 2x speed.  This can allow you to finish things in half the time, and it is often times still very easy to understand.  And I can’t forget my latest obsession, Blinkist, which features 15 minute summaries of tons of great nonfiction leadership and business books.

Fundraising + Personal Productivity [podcast interview]

I recently had the honor of being interviewed by Mike Vardy, host of one of my favorite personal productivity podcasts, Productivityist!

Mike Vardy is a writer, speaker, productivity strategist, and Founder of Productivityist. He is the author of The Front Nine: How to Start the Year You Want Anytime You WantThe Productivityist Playbook, and Beyond Trying.

On the podcast we dig in deep to the intersection of fundraising and personal productivity (one of my favorite topics). I hope you’ll nerd out with me and give it a listen!

The Secret to Sending Prompt Thank You Notes

After we meet with a donor, prospect or volunteer; especially for the first time, we fundraisers have the best of intentions to send a thoughtful hand-written thank-you note. We truly appreciate the gift of time that the individual has given us and we want to sincerely thank them for it.  Plus, we know that most people don’t get many thank-you notes; especially hand-written ones, and we know the impact that they have on the recipient.

But what typically happens?  That’s right—life happens. We go to back to the office and get buried in the flood of emails that piled up while we were away. Or we head home and go right into dinner prep, homework help, dog walking or other activities. Even if we add “Write thank you note to Susan” to our to-do list, three days often go by before we get to it — and promptness is a big key to success with thank-you notes.

As a self-proclaimed productivity nerd, this scenario drove me nuts for the first five years of my fundraising career.  There had to be a better way to get these notes written and out promptly, without having them be just another stressor.

Finally, I found the solution.  And it’s simple:

  1. Keep a set of thank-you cards and pre-stamped envelopes with you at all times (in your briefcase, car, purse, etc.).
  2. Before going into your meeting set out a note (my favorite spot for this is the passenger seat of my car) and pre-address it if you have time.
  3. Immediately after the meeting, write the note.  Don’t put “Write thank-you note to Susan” on your to do list—actually write it! The details of your message will be fresh in your mind and it will be effortless.
  4. On your way into your house or office, drop the completed thank-you note into the outgoing mail.

That’s it, and it’s not rocket science. What does it require?  It requires you creating a new habit.  How long does that take?  Typically, 30-45 days.

So stick with it and eventually writing thank-you notes will go on autopilot for you. I’ve been doing this for over a decade now and haven’t stressed out about a single note, and I’ve never missed sending one either. And that has made a big difference with the donors that I’ve had the pleasure of working with to make this world a better place.

This post first appeared as a part of Advancing Philanthropy: Perspectives – a free membership benefit of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP).  Check out more posts by @fundraiserchad for AFP.

The Best Fundraising Database (Podcast Interview)

In February of 2019, @fundraiserchad was honored to be a guest on Simon Scriver’s Amazingly Ultimate Fundraising Superstar Podcast.

LISTEN TO THE EPISODE

Simon spoke with Chad about his Ultimate Guide to Fundraising Databases, tips for selecting the right fundraising database for your organization and one of Chad’s favorite topics, personal productivity.

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

The WHAT

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.

The HOW

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.

How to Put Fundraising Ideas into Action

How to Put Fundraising Ideas into Action

I find that fundraisers spend a lot of unnecessary time chasing the next great thing and worrying about how they’ll come up with new ways to raise dollars for their cause.   A productive fundraiser does not do this.  For the productive fundraiser, idea generation is an ongoing and innate process.  They are constantly collecting ideas and therefore have a fundraising tactic treasure trove constantly at their disposal.  It’s not a switch that you turn on at conferences or as your campaign year wraps up — it’s an ongoing process.

There’s a great quote by business guru Seth Godin that shows the value of this approach: “You probably don’t need yet another new idea. Better to figure out what to do with the ones you’ve got.”  [sidebar: I had the pleasure of seeing Seth live at AFP’s 2015 International Conference in Baltimore — he’s the best public speaker I’ve ever seen.  Don’t miss the opportunity if you get the chance to see him live.]

So, once you take on this mindset, you’ll never have to go searching for great ideas again.  You’ll already have them stored away somewhere for future use.  Personally, I have a notebook in my online note taking application of choice (Evernote) simply called “Idea Bank.”  It’s a collection of ideas, articles, photos, etc. taken from conferences, books, articles, blog posts, conversations, etc.  Anytime I think “I like that … that could work for us,” the idea is captured and sent to the “Idea Bank” for future consideration.

Each year I begin the fundraising planning process by scanning my “Idea Bank” for the best two new ideas to implement in the coming year.  Yes … two.  Not five, certainly not ten, not one, exactly TWO.  The key is to find the best two ideas that are immediately actionable and include them in your plan.  One should be started right away and the other a few months later.  You should also have a few ideas in reserve in case one of the first two don’t work out.  As you implement, you should constantly be testing and evaluating how things are working.  Don’t be afraid to pull the plug if something isn’t working, but have another idea in your pocket to take its place.

Every successful fundraising plan that I’ve seen has had two new innovative strategies in it … every year.  Not two ideas that didn’t work out … two ideas that successfully raised increased funding for the organization.  They might not have been the two ideas that were in the plan at the beginning of the year, but they were the two that got the job done.

When you’re always learning, have a system in place to capture great ideas, and are constantly testing new innovative ideas, your fundraising will automatically become more innovative and successful.  You won’t even have to think about putting fundraising inspiration into action — it will be second nature.