Friday, January 16, 2015

5 Time Management Tips for Development Officers

Time management is one of the hardest parts of a fundraiser’s job… have you got it mastered?

It’s Monday morning, 9:00 am. You sit down at your desk, ready to tackle the day. A coworker walks in and asks you about your weekend. You have a lot to do today, but you don’t want to be rude, so you talk to him. As you watch precious minutes tick away on the clock, you think about how you promised your boss you’d send her a draft of the first quarter appeal letter by the end of the day. You think about the list of 32 donors that you still need to call and thank for their recent gifts, and you remember that you really should schedule visits with those 10 potential new donors.

At 9:15 am you finish the conversation with your coworker. Now you’re ready to get to work. You open up your email. You have 24 new, unread messages.

By 10:30 am you’ve gotten through about half of the emails when another coworker walks into your office and wants your opinion on an interaction she just had with a donor. You want to help, so you listen.

The phone rings and you look down at the screen – how is it 10:50 am already? It’s your boss on the phone. She wants to know how the first quarter  appeal letter is coming along. You had planned to work on it before your meetings – which are from 11 am until 4 pm today – but it’s already almost 11 am and you haven’t had a chance to work on it yet.

Your head starts swimming and your heart races with with anxiety. How are you ever going to get all of this done?

The good news?

You’re not alone. One of the hardest parts of being a fundraiser is managing your time.

The even better news?

I’ve got 5 time management tips to share with you from a group of high-performing development officers and consultants. Read on, my friends!

5 Time Management Tips for Development Officers

1. Prioritize. Make a plan and stick to it. Your priority is your donor.

“We are distracted by what we consider to be urgent. And we are not paying attention to the important stuff,” said one fundraising consultant. It’s easy to get caught up in details, in the nitty-gritty. The solution? Make a list of everything that you need to do. What tasks get you in front of or in contact with your donors? Those tasks should take top priority. Create a to-do list, with priority things on top, and be faithful to that list. When distractions come up – and they always will – ask yourself, “Does this really need to be addressed right now or can I deal with it later? Is there someone else who can help with detailed administrative work?” Remind yourself to zoom out every so often so that you don’t forget about the big picture. Is what you’re working on right now getting you close to donors?

2. Turn your email off. No, really. Just turn it off.

When you’re working on a project and you really need to focus, turn your email off. When you hear that “ding” or see that balloon pop up to tell you that you’ve got mail, your brain can’t help but be distracted by it. Close your email down. Instead, check it every 2-3 hours. This works with the phone too. You don’t have to take every call. If a call isn’t urgent, don’t answer it. You can call back later.

3. Do you really need to go to that meeting?

If you work in fundraising, you have to go to meetings. A lot of meetings. Remember your priorities. Ask yourself, is this a meeting that I need to go to or is it a meeting that would be nice to go to?  If it’s not a mandatory meeting, ask yourself what that meeting is going to provide you. Which is more important in terms of bringing money in the door, attending the meeting or using the time to do something else?

4. Your coworkers are going to be attracted to your magnetic personality. Learn to work around it.

Whether it’s the Chatty Cathy that loves to stop by every day after lunch to talk your ear off or the new hire you’re mentoring who needs your advice, your coworkers are going to distract you. Fundraising is about relationships, so you don’t want to be rude to your coworkers when you’re swamped and don’t have time to give them. Instead, come into the office when it’s quiet. “I come in early, before anybody else is here. When people are gone from here, you can get a lot more done,” said one development officer. And it’s OK to shut your door when you need be very focused in order to get something done. It is also good to make a specific appointment for these chats. “I would love to talk with you about this. Can we meet tomorrow at 10?”

5. Find what works best for you!

One of the fundraising professionals I spoke with liked to get outside and take walks during particularly stressful times. He felt that it cleared his mind and helped him find solutions to problems. Another fundraising professional explained that he was a visual person and that having his tasks in front of him – literally – worked for him: “When things are in a file drawer and I can't see them, then these things don’t exist. Once I have finished a project, then I can file it. At the end of the day, there should be fewer piles on my desk.” Experiment with the way you manage your time and find what works best for you.

Still feeling swamped? Contact Andrea today, and she will help you.

Image credit: Copyright: <a href=''> / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pt. 2 - Unleashing the Power of Focus Groups: How to Find Out What Your Donors are Saying About You

What are people really saying about your organization?

Last month, we posted about how focus groups are the key to understanding how your donors feel, think, and talk about your organization. We also wrote about the first 5 out of 10 steps to follow if you want to hold a successful focus group. Today, we’re going to talk about the rest of these steps.

What is a focus group? It’s a small group of people whose opinions about something are studied to learn the opinions that can be expected from a larger group (Merriam-Webster). 

When Giving Focus held a series of focus groups at Pines Village Retirement Communities in Valparaiso, IN, we followed a 10-step plan from Judith Simon Sharken’s book The Wilder Nonprofit Field Guide to Conducting Successful Focus Groups. 

The first 5 steps are:

   1. Define the purpose
   2. Establish a timeline
   3. Identify and invite the participants
   4. Generate the questions to be asked
   5. Develop the script (we preferred to use an outline)

To read our post about how Giving Focus carried out these first 5 steps, click here.

The rest of the steps are:

   1. Select a facilitator
   2. Choose the location
   3. Conduct the focus group
   4. Interpret and report results
   5. Translate the results into action

A good facilitator understands group dynamics. He or she is a good meeting leader and will be a gracious host. Good facilitators will keep the discussion on track and will make sure that everyone is heard. When you’re selecting your facilitator, the comfort of your participants should be a key factor. A facilitator from outside of the organization may be viewed as more objective and can elicit more honest responses from participants. 

Andrea is a communications expert and her facilitation of the Pines Village focus groups was met with rave reviews from participants! Contact Andrea today to learn more about how she can be the facilitator of your focus group.

Is the location of your focus group inviting? Can it comfortably accommodate everyone? Is it easy to get to? The Pines Village focus groups took place in the main building of the organization. The atmosphere was warm and inviting, and all participants knew exactly where to go since they’d all been to Pines Village before. During the focus groups, people sat around one large table. You want everyone to be able to see each other.

When you’re conducting a focus group, Sharken suggests bringing the following list of materials:

  • Extra notepads and pencils
  • Flip chart or easel paper
  • Focus group script or outline
  • List of participants with phone numbers
  • Markers
  • Masking tape
  • Name tags
  • Refreshments
  • Tape recorder (optional – you may wish to have someone take notes in place of or in addition to a recorder)
  • Watch or clock 

After you’ve held your focus group, the next step is to interpret and report the results from the information you’ve collected. For Pines Village, Andrea used the focus group information to create an internal case statement. An internal case statement is a collection of talking points for why a donor should give to your organization. (For more information on internal case statements, visit fundraising communications expert Tom Ahern’s website). When you’re reporting on your focus group results, it’s good to include the background and purpose of the report, the details of the sessions (who, what, when, and where), the results, and the conclusions drawn.

The final step of conducting successful focus groups is to translate the results into action. In the Pines Village case, this means that Andrea will train the staff and board on the internal case statement, enabling them to talk about their organization in a clear and compelling way that relates to and resonates with donors and supporters.

If you want to hold a focus group, following Sharken’s 10 steps to conducting successful focus groups works. The Pines Village focus groups were a huge success, and they told the managers of Pines Village exactly what they wanted to know: 

  • the words and phrases the community uses to describe the organization
  • what makes the organization unique, setting it apart from the other organizations in the community that provide similar services
  • what inspires people to give to the organization
  • the kinds of questions potential donors will ask



For more information about how we can help you conduct a focus group so that you can understand what your donors really think about you, contact Andrea today.


Simon, Judith Sharken. The Wilder Nonprofit Field Guide to Conducting Successful Focus Groups. Saint Paul, Minn: Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, 1999. Print.