ask an expert

Our Ask An Expert series features real questions answered by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, our very own Fundraising Coach, also known as Charity Clairity.

Today’s question comes from a donor relations manager who needs advice on how to best organize, prioritize, and stay on top of tasks. 

Dear Charity Clairity,

I’m new to my job as a donor relations manager, and my one thorn right now is organization. I’m trying to find a good method to keep all my tasks in order and on time, with proper follow-up and follow-through. I end up having so many calls/contacts/lists to keep track of, and so many places to look for information, I feel I never know where to turn next. I log everything in the database, so I leave a good paper trail/report. But I’m looking for a better way to make my own map, and know who to call and when and why. Every time I make a spreadsheet it gets unwieldy and outdated very quickly, and I feel like I’m missing opportunities to follow up. Do you know any programs that can help keep me on task?

I’m all ears!

Dear All Ears,

From your question, I’d imagine a number of things may be contributing to your sense of overwhelm. A task management system may help a little. Here’s one some of my clients use (I don’t find it particularly helpful personally, but you can try it for free for 30 days). It will “tickle” you to remind you when tasks are uncompleted. And you can assign tasks back and forth to others as well. So if you need someone else’s help with something you can assign it to them, and vice-versa. Used this way, you’d need to get everyone to buy in to using this system. There are numerous other task management systems you can check out here. Personally, I just plug all my tasks into my online calendar and block out chunks of time. Of course, you need to keep adjusting this if tasks take longer than anticipated.

Here are some other thoughts that may help with organization:

PRIORITIZATION

If you’re new to the job, you may never have received a good orientation as to what tasks to prioritize–let alone how to do those tasks.  This results in feeling like you’re drinking from a firehose. You need a way to figure out which spigots to turn on then off. If you can’t manage the flow, you’ll feel you’re being flooded. Constant crisis mode. Exhausting.

ACTIONS: 

  1. Make a list of all of your job responsibilities. 
  2. Attach an anticipated ROI to each one (e.g. “acquire X new monthly donors;” “acquire X new one-time donors;” “upgrade X current donors to major gift level;” “upgrade X current major gift donors to larger gifts;” “renew X lapsed donors;” “convert X [volunteers; subscribers; members; clients] to donors,” and so forth).
  3. Attach a monetary value to each strategy. 
  4. Check in with your boss to see where you agree/disagree then refine your list.

This should help you prioritize. It’s not all about today’s money; you have to prime the pump for tomorrow too. But the Pareto 80/20 Rule applies: You should be spending 80% of your time where you’ll get 80% of your contributed income.

TIME MANAGEMENT

You’re new to the job, so don’t have a good idea of how long tasks take. How much time should you allocate to make donor check-in/”getting to know you” calls? To qualify donors to add to your personal portfolio? To assign donors to other members of your team’s portfolios? To make your own direct asks? To make thank you calls… write/send thank you letters and emails… engage in cultivation activities… input data… generate reports… conduct donor research… attend meetings… plan/coordinate events… other administrative tasks? What else is on your plate, and how much time do those things take?

ACTIONS:

  1. Take a week (or two if it seems like an unusual week) to keep track of how you spend your time. 
  2. See how this meshes with your priorities (see above).
  3. Talk with your boss about how to find a better balance.

Little things that don’t result in much ROI can eat up a lot of time. Try to get these moved off your plate. You need the time to live and breathe your job. This will help you focus on the areas where you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck, not to mention the strategies that play to your strengths.

Even if your boss is a “natural” at fundraising, they likely wear too many other hats to be thinking about this morning, noon, and night. Someone has to be on top of this at all times if you want to build a well-oiled development machine that will stand you in good stead today and tomorrow. Otherwise you’ll lose donors you shouldn’t lose, not upgrade others, and generally leave money on the table

RESOURCES

Given the times we’re in, it’s likely you stepped into this job at a time development staff were cut back. As we move back to being on site and being able to connect with donors in person, strategies that were put on hold will need to be reactivated. This will take more time. What will this mean for you?

ACTIONS:

  1. Consider what staffing you think will be needed for the coming year. What would make it possible for you to do your priority tasks more effectively, resulting in greater revenue for your organization? If you feel you have too many good “upgrade prospects” to handle personally, you can make a case to add staff. Or maybe you’re fine as is. Just think about it. Development should be viewed as a revenue center, not a cost center. 
  2. Talk with your boss about how they envision development staffing moving forward. How do they see your job responsibilities evolving? How do you want them to evolve? Endeavor to get greater clarity on your role, responsibilities, and personal mission.

Keep those ears open. It’s one of the best traits for a fundraiser to have!

— Charity Clairity

Have a question for our Fundraising Coach?

Please submit your question here. Remember, there are no stupid questions! If you need an answer, it’s likely someone else does too. So help your colleagues by asking away. Please use a pseudonym, like “All Ears” did, if you prefer to be anonymous.

Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.
Claire Axelrad