I recently received an email from a fundraiser at a nonprofit. The message was similar to ones I get regularly: “Sorry — moving quickly between this project, a grant proposal and an upcoming event.” I feel your pain; I really have “been there, done that.”
Unless you work for one of the mega-nonprofits, there is a good chance you wear many hats. Fundraisers generally learn quickly how to do a lot of things, often with little or no coaching. The fact that you’ve never written a grant proposal, pulled together a gala for 500 people or studied marketing is moot because you’re Super Fundraiser!
Well, that’s what “they” think (whoever “they” is in your organization), and based on personal observations, few fundraisers say “no.” As a group, we are “roll up our sleeves and figure it out” kind of people. It’s something in the genetic code, I guess. But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t welcome a bit of help from time to time. And, oh yeah — more time would be nice, too.
If you are hoping for a personal copy of Hermione’s time turner, I can’t help you (sorry, non-Harry Potter fans), but if you are already using outside resources (writers, designers, full-service agencies, etc.) for your donor communications, there are ways you can free up more of your time without spending more money. Here are some “system tweaks” that may help.
Write out general instructions — often called “mandatories.”Note your address for the outer envelope and a different one (if applicable) for the reply envelope. Include the phone number and Web address you want on the mailing or email, the full name of the signer and his or her title, your mission, key phrases you use to describe your work, and the names and titles of other staff members who may be referenced in copy. Add information about typeface and colors, plus any formatting issues (“We always italicize names of programs” or “We never use lower-case when referring to deity) and preferences (i.e., “Never quote this person” or “Use only first names when referring to people we help). Create (or have created) standard data instructions; at a minimum, note the fields you have available — i.e., can the writer address the recipient as “Mary” or are you limited to a single field that includes both first and last name (i.e., “Mary Brown”)? Bottom line: If you have already or expect to give the same information to more than one outside resource, put it in your mandatories. It’s better to provide a supplier with a bit too much information than to scramble for it when time is tight.
Create a folder with all your usual assets. Include your logo files, signatures, iconic photos and any other digital assets that may be needed to complete a job. Then, you can either send the folder or provide a link if you have it stored online so the supplier has everything needed to get to work. Using online storage may save even more time because you can update the logo, for example, without having to remember to send everyone a new file to replace the old one. If they can retrieve the latest version online, you avoid going back and forth to send assets, or wasting time reviewing designs that use old versions of your assets.
Write a short paragraph explaining the purpose of each project, and provide it when giving the copy and/or design to others for review. If a reviewer knows in advance that the intent of the e-appeal is to get nondonors to make a gift, for example, he or she may be less likely to suggest you change the ask amount to $10,000. You may also want to include a bit of subtle education — “Our experience shows that opening the letter by talking about the donor, not the organization, works best” — to help your reviewers be more effective. This paragraph may be something your copywriter will write for you; it never hurts to ask!
Combine all the edits into one document. This can save time as you won’t be reviewing a number of different versions and may also save money since your supplier’s time will be used more efficiently. Especially when you are moving at a fast pace, setting aside a few minutes to combine colleagues’ comments can pay off big in the end. Your writer or designer isn’t equipped to make a judgment call when there are two conflicting views expressed; you are the best person to “bite the bullet” and make the call on what trumps conflicting viewpoints. Otherwise, you may just have to change it in the next version.
Take advantage of your suppliers, and ask questions. You will generally find that the partners you work with want to help you raise more income and judiciously spend money. Rather than dictating specifications, for example, ask the supplier what he or she has been using most effectively or what would be the best option within your budget. If you are wondering something but don’t have time to ask about it, you can jot it down and follow up later. The more you know, the faster things seem to go, so never hesitate to ask.
I feel your pain. I mean it. This old dog has often been in the “no-time-gotta-figure-it-out-and get-it-done mode” many times. But I have also had quieter moments when I could have taken a few steps to make the next panic period a bit easier — if I could only remember what it was that ate up precious time.
So don’t worry — I won’t be offended if you put a copy of this article in your “things to do when I have a free minute” file. Sometimes there just isn’t enough time to do something that will free up more time. But a calmer day is coming. At least that’s what’s keeping me sane these days.
Here’s to year-end fundraising that exceeds all expectations — and a few days in January when we can all recharge and remember why we love the business of fundraising.
Originally published in NonProfit Pro.