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Fundraisers, Do Your Successor – And Future Self – a Favor: Write Your Job Manual!

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Have you ever started a new job and all your predecessor left was a box full of paper and electronic files in such a mess you didn’t know where to find anything?

You were likely hired with the expectation that you would “hit the ground running.” But what if you had no idea what the passwords for grant applications were, how to use the agency’s CRM, or where the to-do list for that upcoming fundraiser was kept?

Wouldn’t it have been amazing if your job came with an instruction manual?

I’m not talking about how to be a fundraiser. You probably already know the basics of doing a direct mail appeal, how to steward your donors, maybe even how to run a successful capital campaign.

By instruction manual, I mean a document that tells you step-by-step how to do this exact job, for this organization, at this time in history.

Well, your predecessor didn’t write a manual, so it’s critical that you do. Even future you, a year from now, may need a reminder about “now, what was that trick I did last year to save me two hours of work and frustration?” Having a record of how to do your job will be invaluable down the road to you AND your organization.

Sound great? Well, here’s the rub: YOU ARE REALLY BUSY! Between the gala to plan and the board report to write and the social media posts to create and the newsletter to draft and the donors you need to call and the database updates you have to do and the thank you letters that have to go out within 48 hours– when are you going to have a few DAYS to write down what all you do and how you do it?

Breathe. You can do this. And here’s a few ideas on how:

Create a calendar. Only include recurring tasks, broken down as those done annually (i.e., year-end tax receipts); monthly (board report); quarterly, etc. Don’t worry about including everything on your first draft. As the year goes by, add tasks you remember and delete those no longer on your plate. Creating this calendar will also help you with the next step.

Make a list of topics. Brainstorm a list of everything you do in your job. Not how to do them – yet.

Write as you go. You do not have to do it all at once. If it’s May, don’t worry about work you do in January. Start with May. Say you’re about to start your annual spring mail appeal. Open up a blank Word document, and type up what you’re doing AS YOU’RE DOING IT.

Don’t worry about the format. It doesn’t matter if your job manual is one long Word document or in a color-coded three-ring binder. Choose a format that works for you. Just don’t laminate it! This manual is a living, breathing document that will require changes and updates.

Write yourself little notes. If you think of something that you’d wish you’d done (like booked the venue for the luncheon a month earlier so you got the date you wanted), write a note to yourself for next year in your manual and in your calendar.

Next year, follow your own instructions. We’re back at May, and it’s time to do that spring mail appeal. Look through those instructions you wrote a year ago, and follow them step-by-step. You may find errors or gaps that need revising or even a trick you figured out to make your life easier. You will also run across those reminders you wrote yourself!

Write instructions about everything you do for your job, even if it’s not fundraising related. How do you file mileage reimbursements at this organization? Where’s the employee manual kept? What?!? It’s my job to order business cards? How in the world do I do that? Include it all.

Make note of where things are kept. If you’re describing how to handle logistics for the big fundraising event, be sure to say where one can find all the vendors’ contact information. And don’t forget to mention where all the logins and passwords can be found!

Whether you move on to the next stage of your career, retire, or are hit by that metaphorical bus, someone will likely need to fill your shoes someday. A job manual will help make the transition smoother for your organization. But even if you decide to stay at your current job forever, your future self will thank you for taking notes!

As part of Bloomerang’s Content Donation Program, $100 was donated to Girls Inc. of Central Alabama.


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  • Steven

    I absolutely agree with this, 100%! I have tried talking to my organization about this very subject. Change is challenging.
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