We all aspire to achieve great things, this means different things to different people. I was always focused on leading a team. I love working with people and more specifically, I love the energy that is created when I am engaged in inspirational conversations. It is for this reason that I consider myself lucky to be a professional fundraiser and even luckier to be leading a team of very accomplished and highly competent fundraisers. But there is a challenge that exists for many Directors in non profit organizations, and I believe it is an unspoken challenge. It is the trifecta effect, the challenge of leading your team, the challenge of working your own fundraising portfolio and the challenge of reporting up to the CEO. It is the curse I suppose of middle management, but it is not often discussed or addressed. It is for this reason that I’d like to share some of the strategies I have adapted over the years to deal with the aforementioned challenge.
But before I begin, we need to take a look at a typical day in the life of a Fundraising manager:
– Your phone light is blinking, after checking your voice mail you hear a couple of messages from donors left the night before.
– You turn on your computer and the first messages that pop up are e-mails from your team members requesting advice on strategies for approaching their own donors.
– Just before you head out to a donor luncheon, you are summoned to the CEO’s office requesting a report on the latest fundraising results.
This may or may not seem a little frantic to you, depending on your job and where you fit in the organization. Sure, most individuals have competing deadlines and requests and this is just the nature of working in a fast paced environment. But the challenges that face many Fundraising Managers are not just competing priorities, much of their work has to do with the survival of the organization. Okay, this may sound a little ego inflating (especially as this is my role), but the point is this role is often associated with securing donations for the organization, without which an organization would not exist. So now that we understand a Fundraising Manager is often juggling 3 significant areas of focus (leaded a team, managing their own portfolio, and working with a President/CEO), the question is, how is this effectively and efficiently handled? I have identified 3 strategies that have made a huge difference in my life as a Fundraising Manager.
First and foremost, stay focused. Yes, you have all heard this before…and it is certainly not a revelation. But the importance of staying focused cannot be understated when every task you have is a priority. The above example of a Fundraising Manager’s typical day reminds me a checklist I would give to prospective employees during the interview process. Individuals were required to itemize a list of tasks in order of priority. It was not exactly an easy list as it had items dealing with donor requests while also responding to priorities from the President/CEO. Consequently, there were no right answers, but it did allow for the conversation on competing priorities and how to manage your day. Now granted, not every day is filled with the above scenarios but it does speak to how you approach your work and how you stay organized. The way I stayed focused and organized is a very simple system. I have three different stacks of colored gemstones on my desk. The blue gemstones represent donor work, red gemstones represent work I do with my team and the green gemstones is linked to work I do with the President/CEO. Every day I challenge myself to move one gemstone of each color from one bowl to another, the only way I can do this is if I do work associated to that color. Everyday my goal is to move one gemstone of each color into the empty bowl. In fact, I am not allowed to complete my day until I see at least one gemstone of each color in the empty bowl. The next day, I move all of the gemstones back into the full bowl and I start all over again. By organizing my work in this way, it allows me to focus my attention on my donors, my team and my CEO…all of which deserve my attention. And yes, it is still dividing my attention three ways, but it every day these three areas receive at least a little bit of my focus then nobody is getting left behind.
The second most important strategy that needs to be employed when balancing workloads with different stakeholders is communication. Never underestimate the power of good communication. Especially when working with external and internal stakeholders, their needs may be very different. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to engage in some authentic conversations. It is only through this type of dialog that you will be deepen your relationships and achieve true synergies that allow for transformational progress.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to be innovative. Find solutions that work for each group and be creative in your approach. An example of being innovative recently occurred in my work with my CEO. The reports I had created demonstrating my team’s activity was not working for him. I went back to the drawing board and created a more detailed report thinking that this is what he wanted to see. After he once again disapproved, I asked him what he was looking for (the communication piece!!) and he described what he wanted. After thinking this through, I realized that what he wanted was not anything that a report could produce. So, I created a monthly sharing circle with my team and the CEO where stories could be shared of conversations with external stakeholders. This type of interaction satisfied the needs of the CEO but it was very different than anything we had done before. The lesson I learned, don’t be afraid to try something different and explore new possibilities for how you manage your work. Working in a non profit organization as a Director of Development or Fundraising Manager is not an easy job, and it is exacerbated by the fact that you are usually managing a team of fundraisers, while managing your own portfolio and ensuring that your President/CEO is set up for success. These are all equally important duties so they require your attention, which is why I developed the three strategies of staying focused, communicating and innovating. It’s not easy but at least it allows for some rigour in your day…and provides me with some relief that I am not losing my way.
Sue McCoy is a highly skilled development professional and has worked for a variety of nonprofit organizations over the past 25 years. Currently, Sue is employed as the Director of Major Gifts with the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation, one of Canada’s largest children’s hospital foundations. She oversees a team of professional fundraisers securing over $10 million a year in donations. When not raising money, Sue enjoys any activity involving the outdoors with the company of her husband, three kids and dog.