Time management for the one-person nonprofit fundraising office

November 28, 2011

If you’re a one-person development and communications department in a busy nonprofit organization, you how challenging it can be.  Your job title consists of:

  • Individual giving manager
  • Event planner
  • Grant writer
  • Database manager
  • Director of stewardship
  • Public relations director
  • Social media manager
  • Webmaster
  • and more

How do you keep it all together…or do you?  Studies have shown that multi-tasking flat out doesn’t work.  You know it yourself:  when you’re responding to emails, while simultaneously writing your year-end appeal letter, and simultaneously running queries on your database, you’re not giving your best to any one of those tasks.

The truth is, by doing less, you might accomplish more.

How’s that?

Well, stop for a moment.  What is, after all, the best use of your time?  Where do you need to focus – really focus – to fully fund your organization’s mission?

  1. Building relationships
  2. Following to your development plan
  3. Understanding your mission, inside and out

One way to ensure that you get done everything that needs to get done is by batching.  Batching simply involves looking at tasks that you do over and over again and batching them into one or two spans of time.  Examples of things you might “batch” include:

  • Checking email once or twice a day.  Perhaps schedule email from 9:00 until 9:15 or 9:30 and then again before you leave for the day.  (Trouble sticking to it?  Try a site-blocking program such as Leechblock to remind you.)
  • The same with social media.  Spend 30 minutes to an hour a day monitoring your organization’s social media accounts.  Schedule it.
  • When can you schedule daily or weekly calls to donors to thank them for their support?

What are weekly and monthly habits that will bring you closer to your goals?

  • Schedule an hour once or twice a day or half a day a week dedicated solely to foundation prospect research.
  • Eliminate meetings whenever possible.
  • Free three to four hours a week when you’ll connect with program staff, take donors or board members to lunch.

Buy yourself a timer, and use it.  A task you might think takes you three hours might, in reality take you one.  And vice versa.  Learn where your time goes.

A word about delegating:  I’ve seen waaaay too many organizations delegating responsibilities that they haven’t taken the time to understand.  Think social media or website development – this is what leads to organizations spending $5000 and more for a website they could have paid $500 with with better functionality – and control.  Understand why you are in social media and where your donors are.  I’d be very leery about outsourcing your social media, particularly without a solid understanding of your motivations and goals for social media.

Think creatively.  How could you utilize Craigslist or elance?  I’ve outsourced to Craigslist for small jobs like creating editable pdf surveys, logo design, compiling results, Excel worksheets – you name it.

Whenever you’re tempted to veer off course, remind yourself: “how does this factor into my development plan?”

Want more?  Check out Simple Development Systems: Successful fundraising for the one-person shop, the only book written solely for the one-person fundraising department!

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Claudius Thompson November 28, 2011 at 7:13 am

Great post as if I am the one this is addressing. Thanks a million!!!!

Sandy Rees November 28, 2011 at 11:54 am

Great tips Pam! I am also a proponent of batching, both for myself and my clients. It makes so much more sense to make all of your phone calls when you get in “phone call” mode or handle all of your Thank-You letters at once.

Sandy Rees

Kirsten Bullock November 29, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Thanks for these great tips. Email and social media can so easily be a time waster! Technology was supposed to make our life easier – instead I think it’s just given us more distractions. Will definitely try to limit my email checking activities :-).

Gayle L. Gifford, ACFRE November 29, 2011 at 6:06 pm

I agree with Sandy and Kirsten, great tips. I know I can get distracted way too easily checking email, facebook or Twitter.

A wise friend advises do the hard stuff first. While I happen to think making donor connections is a delight, scheduling them often takes 2nd or 3rd place in a development office. So put that scheduling at the top of your daily list.

Andy Perkins December 1, 2011 at 6:13 am

I have a sign over my desk that says “First, eat the frog” to remind me every day to do the hardest thing first and get it out of the way.

Pamela Grow December 1, 2011 at 6:17 am

Love that Andy – it’s the quote I almost led off this week’s Grow Report with!

Amy Sept December 1, 2011 at 7:12 am

Great post! I think the delegation issue goes both ways; it’s too easy to hand off a website or social media without taking time to do the legwork, but there are also other pieces that are often underestimated and kept in-house (annual reports come to mind). Hard to balance when time is at a premium, but I agree: It’s so important to understand the tactics you want to use.

Pamela Grow December 1, 2011 at 7:21 am

I so agree Amy! And annual reports is a good example. I’ve done many in-house, back in my graphic design days, so I know first-hand the amount of work that goes into one. And good graphic design is worth every penny. So many in our field, though, are not terribly tech savvy. It breaks my heart to see how so many unsuspecting organizations are really taken for a ride on web design.

Esther James December 1, 2011 at 8:41 am

Excellent post! Love the ideas of reducing meetings and sequestering email time. Thanks for keeping it real!

Ron P. Muriera December 1, 2011 at 9:57 am

Thanks for the great post, Pamela! Having made a transition from working as a one-person grants department at a nonprofit to an independent grants consultant, these tips apply as well!

Gayle L. Gifford, ACFRE December 2, 2011 at 7:52 am

One more thought about time management. When I was at Save The Bay back in the 90s, my major gifts officer had been a one woman shop for many years. She found that she was much better managing her work and the development program by really thinking about the seasonality of her different fundraising programs because she couldn’t do them all at the same time and manage all the volunteers. It worked well for her.

Pamela Grow December 5, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Email and social media can be the biggest time drains, Kirsten. Thanks for posting!

Pamela Grow January 10, 2012 at 4:21 am

Thanks for taking the time to comment Esther!

Marcella Scott April 27, 2015 at 8:03 am

Being a one-person fundraising office and new to the field, I often get scattered and overwhelmed with the scope and depth of the work. Thank you for helping me take a step back and remember to design my day and my week in order to be more effective. I had gotten into the habit of being more reactive than proactive.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: