Fundraising can be fun and exciting. It’s also challenging and stressful, particularly when it comes to managing time and meeting deadlines. If this is something you struggle with, it’s important to reassess your approach.
5 Practical Time Management Tips for Busy Fundraisers
“Time is the only thing you can’t buy,” billionaire Warren Buffett once said. “I can buy anything I want. But I can’t buy more time.”
Whether it’s time with your kids, time in the office, or time fundraising – time is a finite resource that is slowly but surely ticking away. While sobering, this fact should also be motivating.
Unfortunately, very few people ever think about time management. They either assume they’re doing fine, or know they’re seriously deficient in this area and don’t care to think about it.
According to a survey by Salary.com, 89 percent of people admit to wasting time every day at work. Here’s how the numbers breakdown:
- 31 percent waste 30 minutes daily
- 31 percent waste one hour daily
- 16 percent waste two hours daily
- 6 percent waste three hours daily
- 2 percent waste four hours daily
- 2 percent waste five-plus hours daily
Unless you’re an exception to the rule, you’re wasting at least half an hour of time every single day. In all likelihood, this is a direct result of poor time management. Actively seeking improvement in this area will produce profoundly positive returns.
Time management, from a fundraising perspective, requires strategy and focus. It’s not something that’s just going to happen without any intentionality.
So, if you’re willing to develop a plan, the following tips will help you grow in this area:
Plan Your Day Each Morning
There’s some real truth to starting your day off on the right foot. One small thing – whether good or bad – can have a significant impact on the rest of your day. By starting the day off with a daily planning session, you’ll feel much more in control of what gets done.
A daily planning session is usually a 20- to 30-minute session where you sit down, undistracted, and prioritize tasks, give them an order, and tie up any loose ends that you’ll need in order to be productive during the day.
“When you’re setting your daily agenda, slot your most demanding tasks into your most productive working time(s),” entrepreneur Susan Ward advises. “For example, if you’re a morning person, schedule whatever creative tasks you need to accomplish into the morning rather than into the late afternoon when your mental energy is low.”
Schedule in Advance
It’s absolutely imperative that you learn to schedule things in advance. Whether your schedule is set in stone, or you have random obligations that pop up here and there, getting fundraising commitments on the calendar will help you carve out time for specific meetings and tasks.
The Calendar app helps you create events quickly and schedule meetings without confusion that’s typically involved in the process. One of the biggest benefits of using the app is that it permits everyone involved to see each other’s schedules and set times and dates accordingly – rather than asking for a list of available times, waiting for a response, and then repeating this process with multiple people until a time is chosen.
Learn to Say No
When time is limited, you don’t have the luxury to do everything. At any given moment, you’re probably being pulled in multiple directions and there’s significant power in learning how to use the word “no.”
Saying no might not feel easy at first, but you’ll get more comfortable with it as time goes on. Based on Stephen Covey’s urgency chart, you should say yes to things in Quadrant I and no to things in Quadrant III and Quadrant IV. Quadrant II is where things get challenging. Learning how to properly schedule these tasks will prove critically important in your quest to improve time management.
Work With Partners You Know and Trust
There’s certainly a time and place for working with new people, but there’s significant value in working with partners you already know and trust. In doing so, you eliminate a lot of the back and forth conversation and “feeling out” that’s often present in first-time interactions.
For example, let’s say you run a fundraiser in which you donate backpacks to kids in need. Working with the same supplier year-in and year-out – such as Bags in Bulk – will save time tracking down quotes and other logistical details. You know what you’re going to get and don’t have to waste energy and effort doing things that don’t produce a return.
The same goes for people within your organization. If someone was assigned to the task of, say, filling the backpacks with school supplies last year, make it a point to give the same responsibility to them this year. If someone was in charge of delivering the backpacks, they should head this task up again. They’ll be much faster (and will likely learn from some mistakes or inefficiencies from the previous year).
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Delegate as Much as Possible
It’s often hard to offload a responsibility when you’re someone who likes to be in control, but it’s really important. By delegating to trusted members of your team, you can free up your schedule to focus on what’s most important.
Delegating comes with a bunch of challenges, but you just have to do it. Once you start relinquishing control in areas that aren’t critical to your job title, you’ll begin to realize that it’s effective.
“Show your staff that you trust them and will be relying on them, and then let them fly,” fundraising expert Joe Garecht writes. “Check in with them regularly, but trust them to complete their assigned projects, until they prove you otherwise.”
The follow-up to delegation is just as important as the delegation itself. After all, you want these people to be motivated enough to tackle similar tasks again in the future. Make sure you share in the rewards and give credit where credit is due.
“Be sure to recognize and thank anyone who’s helped you out, and make your whole team (not just yourself) looks good for doing the job well,” entrepreneur K.T. Bernhagen writes. “And if you receive any rewards or accolades for the project, share them.”
Know When to Take Breaks
It’s easy to fall for the myth that more work equals greater output, when the truth is that overworking yourself yields diminishing returns. Know when to take breaks and free up chunks of time in your schedule for resting and re-centering yourself.
There are multiple schools of thought on the best way to take breaks and, in all honesty, it depends on your personality, cognitive abilities, personal preferences, and the tasks you’re completing.
Robert Pozen, an author and senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, is one of leading thinkers in the area of productivity. He suggests thinking of breaks not in terms of a set number – such as five per day – but rather in terms of the appropriate periods of time. What is the right amount of concentrated work you can handle before taking a break?
According to research and the study of professional musicians, Pozen suggests taking a break every 75 to 90 minutes. This stands in stark contrast to other strategies that suggest taking a break every 15 to 45 minutes. With this novel approach, people are better able to focus on the task at hand, consolidate information, and retain the information after the break.
Another popular strategy is the Pomodoro Technique, which suggests 25 minutes “on” and five minutes “off.” The idea is to encourage short pulses of productivity, followed by brief periods of restoration. However, the challenge with this approach is that it’s easy to get distracted; a five-minute break can turn into a 20-minute lapse in focus.
Actively Fight Distractions
People often complain that their productivity is seriously hampered by distractions. While this is usually true, these same people rarely do anything to prevent the distractions from happening.
If you know certain distractions throw you off course, you need to do everything within your power to prevent these distractions from becoming problems in your daily routine.
- If people constantly drop by your office to chat when you’re trying to work, close the door. Put a friendly sign outside that notifies people you’re in the middle of something.
- If email keeps you from focusing on the task at hand, log out of your email for chunks of time.
- If the noise from the next cubicle next door is distracting, buy a pair of noise-canceling headphones. I personally like to listen to a peaceful soundtrack. It calms me. Find what works for you.
There are some distractions that are impossible to prevent, but most can be avoided with a little forethought. Do your best to ward them off before they become issues.
Use What You’ve Got when
If I only had an extra hour each day to work on fundraising, I’d have this entire campaign knocked out by the end of the quarter. If you’ve had thoughts like this, you aren’t alone.
When it comes to fundraising, you may find it easy to complain about your lack of time. Resist the temptation to dwell on your “lack” of resources and instead focus on what you do have. By keeping an eye on the present, you can properly utilize the time in your schedule and maximize your results.