One simple way to simplify

May 28, 2015

A simple and helpful perspective shift from Josh Collier:

I felt like I couldn’t get anything done. The Tyranny of the Urgent wasn’t just a struggle, it was my daily reality. Not able to do what I love most, I found myself totally discouraged.

So I asked my friend David Achata for help. He said he’d recently discovered that the more goals you attempt to accomplish in a given day, the fewer you will actually accomplish. I know, I said the same thing: David, that sounds totally backwards!

But it’s actually true.

The concept isn’t about planning or goals or priorities. It’s about margin. When you try to accomplish too much in one day, then you don’t have any margin. Each interruption or additional task doesn’t receive attention, delegation, or deferment, it receives frustration – but only because so many tasks and goals were planned that there is no space for the unexpected.

David suggested that I start each day thinking about the number one goal for the day, answering this question: If I could only accomplish one thing today, what would it be? Then, plan a max of two other goals, considering one goal for each third of the work day: morning, mid-day, and afternoon. Need to work on an appeal letter in the morning? Goal one. Lunch meeting? Goal two. Early morning meeting the following day to prepare for? Goal three.

This daily activity I still practice changed my tyranny of the urgent to the tranquility of open margin. Try it for two weeks – I guarantee you’ll experience less stress and greater productivity.

Learn the full how-to in David’s short blog HERE.

What are other simple ways to simplify?  Join the conversation at @infosmallchange #ascblog


Sticky Notes Part II – The Practicum

May 27, 2015

A great follow up post from our friend Josh:

2 weeks ago we talked about my friend and his sticky notes – the big point: your technology doesn’t make your organized, YOU make you organized. All the tech in the world doesn’t change how you approach, prioritize, and organize your life.

So, here’s 10 simple tips for getting organized – from theory to practicum

  1. Reject the idea that bright, new, and shiny will make you more productive. Only you will make you more productive.
  2. Think before you act: “If I had one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.” – Albert Einstein
  3. Place blocks in your schedule to accomplish this thinking, for a simple method, check out this post by Edward Sumner.
  4. Decide to say no to everything that’s a distraction: “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.” – Steve Jobs
  5. Accept the limits of every tech you use – nothing can do everything, so use each for their strengths – I’ve spent way too much time researching how to integrate my tools when I could have been getting things done.
  6. Reduce the overall number of tech tools you use to stay organized. The more places you have to go for information, the more you have to remember where everything is stored.
  7. Reject the overly complex for the simple. For personal stuff I just use my iPhone reminders, for work, check out todoist. Simple and it just works.
  8. Keep a clean email inbox. Disorganized people have cluttered email inboxes, and I’m really often guilty of this! In my best times, I’m keeping it clean, here’s how.
  9. Every time you complete a task or log a visit with a donor, create a future task for the next touch point, then you won’t be worried about forgotten follow up.
  10. Consistency is king. This is the most significant tip! The person consistently using sticky notes for his task management system will be more effective with their time than the person inconsistently using several high-tech-cloud-sync-reallypretty-superpopular high tech tools. Nike: just do it.

Do you have other tips to share? Join the conversation at @infosmallchange #ascblog

This is my week, and I’m sticking to it.

May 20, 2015

Ok.  Last week we talked about the massive fail of inadvertently communicating to supporters and prospects that we are not really listening to them because we’ve got too many other things on our minds.  Today, I want to offer a general guide to structuring our weeks in such a way that this is less likely to happen.

It’s not a perfect plan, but is a plan that’s worked for me.  It is offered with the caveat that things always come up, priority relationships trump plans, and flexibility is always needed.  But, if we go into each week without a solid playbook and without the discipline to follow it, we’ll get eaten up.  For the last 18 months, this has been how I roll:

Monday:  A day without meetings focused on project planning, assessing and evaluating current efforts and strategy, working through email (more on this next week), running giving reports, reading and researching new insights related to the field of my agency, and coming up with new ideas and getting these thoughts on paper.  Done right, Mondays can be awesome.

Tuesdays:  Meetings with staff, and dedicated time for pursuing business, church, and grant/foundation income as well as planning upcoming events.

Wednesdays:  Meeting, calling, and emailing with supporters and prospects.

Thursday:  Meeting, calling, and emailing with supporters and prospects.

Friday:  Meeting, calling, and emailing with supporters and prospects.

You get the idea.  We can call this my ideal week, and after about a month or two of inaugurating the plan, good things were happening.  Remember, every time you say ‘yes’ you are saying ‘no’ to something else, so let’s focus on making sure our weeks are spent saying yes to the right things.

What does your idea week look like?  Join the conversation at @infosmallchange #ascblog.

‘I’m not really listening to you.’

May 18, 2015

What?!?!  This is probably the worst thing that we could ever communicate to a prospect or supporter for our agencies.  It is a privilege and huge opportunity to personally secure time with those that we are seeking to draw into closer relationship with us, and so, to tell them we’re not  listening would be just awful.  And, I wouldn’t be surprised if they bailed on us.

A dear friend, colleague, and one of the best fundraisers I know was sharing the other day about a really tough season of being so stretched for time, that his 1-1 donor meetings were the only opportunities that he had to really think about all the things he needed to do.

While we would never, ever, say out loud to someone we are meeting with: ‘I’m not really listening to you,’ our cumulative time management fails can greatly increase the unfortunate likelihood of our communicating an inability to be fully present in other ways.  Specifically:

  • Appearing distracted
  • Forgetting to take notes
  • Realizing we have not heard what has been shared, and having to ask supporters to repeat themselves
  • Asking poorly crafted questions
  • Missing big opportunities to establish meaningful rapport

Our time with supporters is by design just that, time with donors.  It is imperative that we employ the discipline to turn off the faucet of tasks, plans, emails, and other responsibilities and give ourselves permission to really participate with folks.  Let’s not forget, this is the most important and most enjoyable part of our role.  Next post we’ll take about some ways to move the battle lines back, and plan our time in such a way that we can ensure supporters know we are really listening.

Thoughts on ways to ensure we are fully present with supporters?  Join the conversation at @infosmallchange #ascblog

Sticky Notes – Really?

May 13, 2015

Our friend Josh Collier kicks off our first segment on time management:

I had this friend who organized his life with sticky notes. I thought he was so disorganized – he literally carried his laptop and a manilla folder filled with printer paper. Each page of paper was covered in sticky notes. What drove me – a borderline organization obsessor – most crazy was that he used different colors of sticky notes with no rhyme or reason! I was sure my methods would always be better.

It’s easy to get all gung-ho on technology these days. Want a project management app in the cloud? Have you tried Basecamp, Teamwork, Asana, or Nozbe? Need some way to organize and manage all your contacts? Have you tried Pipedrive, Highrise, Salesforce? Google docs,, Dropbox, Evernote… at what point do we spend more time ‘getting organized’ than actually doing? For all the time spent figuring out a new way to get organized, how much time could we have spent thanking and investing in the stakeholders of our causes?  Another friend called this ‘spending more time managing our management than getting things done.’

When it comes down to it, my friend’s sticky notes worked. He knew where each one belonged and could quickly prioritize and re-organize his tasks. Did he sometimes miss things? Absolutely. But the lesson is this: you don’t need bells and whistles to use your time effectively.

I’ll admit, I’m the first to be dazzled by a bright shiny new app.

But what I’m learning is an obvious and seemingly trite maxim: Go with what works. I’m making a life pledge to give up the endless quest to re-organize my tasks and projects better. I’m going with what works – it could even end up being a page of sticky notes (color coded, of course).

Stay tuned for next week as we talk more about what does actually work.  In the meantime – what’s working for you?  Join the conversation at @infosmallchange #ascblog

Time is assuredly not on our side.

May 7, 2015

Oh that song and those Rolling Stones singing ‘tiiiiiiiime, is our our side, yes it is….’

Well, Mick, for the fundraiser in today’s obscenely fragmented and fast moving culture time isn’t on our side, at all.  In fact, lacking time to get everything done, setting priorities, and addressing time management issues with the latest strategies can be one of the biggest challenges we face as development professionals.

Considering the full scope of work, we have current supporters to connect with, prospects to meet, events to plan, tweets to tweet, Facebook posts to post, appeal letters to write, staff meetings to attend, team members to manage, new ideas to come up with, old ideas to do away with, conferences to try and get to, emails to send, notes and contacts to add to our donor database, reports to run, lapsed donors to re-engage, and it just never, ever seems to end.

So what can we do?

There are times in the life of every professional when we realize that increasing the likelihood of meaningful and sustainable success is no longer about working harder and faster (as long as we are there already).  It is actually about working more creatively, thoughtfully, and more responsibly with the time that has been entrusted to our care by the agencies that pay us.  It is here, in this process, that much can be done to get ahead and stay ahead.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be offering a new series on how best to manage our time and I’m hopeful to drum up some good ideas and helpful insights.  I’ll try to be quick about it.

Join the conversation at @infosmallchange #ascblog


One from the Vault – Elusive Prospects

May 5, 2015

Grateful for these helpful words from Jason Dick in our first installment of ‘One from the Vault,’ featuring older posts that warrant revisiting:

We all have those prospects which we can never get on the phone. I had a great question in my post, This Thing Called Follow-up, and I wanted to provide a bit more of a comprehensive response.

It is almost always difficult to connect with a new prospect as nobody likes to receive a phone call from a stranger. Building your fundraising programs via people in the community who have never given and have little connection to your organization will always be a challenge.

If these are prospects that could be movers and shakers for your organization, think carefully about who calls them. Send a list around your board meeting to see who might know this individual or a way to connect with them. If you have to do a cold call to them, you might get a lot further if it is the CEO, ED, or President of your organization making the first call. Sometimes it can be helpful to have your board chair or one of your board members who is really well respected in the community or charismatic make the call.

You will always be more successful if you have a reason to connect with the people you are trying to reach. Whether they are patients, individuals that live near the charity, or people that you believe have a common interest, providing a valid reason why you are calling can help people feel more comfortable in calling you back. I have sometimes found that providing a small amount of personal information can help warm someone up to follow-up as well. Too much information will turn everyone off but a quick word about why this message has meaning to you may help in getting someone to return your call.

How are you planning your prospect calls?  Join the conversation at @infosmallchange #ascblog