There are countless strategies to be successful in the fundraising industry. From building lasting relationships with prospects and stewarding donors, to successfully planning and executing gift requests, there are always steps to take to maximize your results.

Recognizing the importance of each fundraising strategy, something often overlooked is the importance of managing yourself. Based upon our experience working with development professionals across all non-profit sectors for the past seven decades, one fact is glaringly clear: Managing time and actions effectively makes the difference between a spectacular fundraiser and one that merely gets the job done. While these points may seem like common sense, it can be difficult to put all of these practices into action. However, with a little focus and planning, a good fundraiser can follow these eight guidelines to become great!

1. Prioritize the activities that bring in the gifts.

Of course, we all must write reports, complete paperwork, and make coffee, but try to make a concerted effort to prioritize the tasks that will have the highest return on your time investment. Write down the top three-to-five revenue-generating tasks that must get done today and do these FIRST. When you get to the end of the day, the tasks that remain should be those that do not raise money—not the important, productive tasks that would have raised money had you gotten to them. Prioritize meeting with or calling prospects and focus on tasks that will lead to a gift (e.g., writing request letters, assigning prospects for volunteers to contact, conducting a ‘meet our CEO’ event with top prospects, stewarding donors, etc.). Contacts, events, and visits lead to gifts. The more you can conduct, the more gifts you will secure.

2. Sitting at your desk doesn’t raise money.

The working world has trained us to sit at our desks, in our swivel chairs, for 8+ hours to be considered “working hard.” However, as fundraisers, you can get a lot done away from your desk. Effective fundraising professionals are rarely in the office because they are meeting with donors, asking for gifts, and raising money. Do not fall into the trap of being glued to your desk – get out there, make connections, and increase support for your organization!

3. Set aside 45 minutes DAILY on your calendar to make phone calls.

Whether you make follow-up calls to prospective donors, set up in-person meetings with prospects, ask for gifts over the phone, call your board members/volunteers, or call donors to thank them for their gifts, one of the most productive uses of your time is getting on the phone with your constituents. Make time for it.

4. Get out of your comfort zone.

“The level of your success is directly proportional to the number of uncomfortable conversations you have.” – Sir Richard Branson, entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist.

Does picking up the phone make you a little bit nervous, so you keep putting it off? Are you afraid to meet that “whale” of a prospect because you’re afraid he or she will say no? Do not wait until you are motivated and comfortable, because you’ll spend all year waiting! Just pick up the phone and start dialing. Take every opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone. That is the only way to continuously improve.  

5. Do things one step at a time.

Most organizations have annual fundraising goals. But what does this mean on a monthly, weekly, or daily basis? Work backwards from your goal and set weekly, measurable goals for your (and your team’s) activities. To walk or even run, you must take one step at a time. Without knowing how many steps per day to take, it is unlikely you will reach the end of the year having reached your desired destination.

Do you need to raise $1 million this year? Look at your donor database. How many people will you need to ask, and at what gift request levels, to meet your goal? Extrapolate this over 12 months, even 52 weeks. How many calls and visits do you need to make per week (or per day) to reach your goal? Establish measurable benchmarks for activity, stick to them, and measure your performance against them.

6)    Ask for help.

Even with your stellar team of fundraisers, you may still need help reaching your goals. Leverage your board of trustees by asking them to identify prospect connections, bringing them on gift request visits, and requesting their assistance in opening select doors. This group is a critical asset to your fundraising success, so use them. Recruit a team of volunteers to help: those who will visit prospects and request gifts, phone-a-thon volunteers, or volunteers who help free up your team to ask for more gifts. A successful fundraising operation is a symphony of many moving parts. Recruit your team (staff, board, volunteers, and consultants) and purposefully manage their efforts for the greatest impact.

7. Carve out time for thinking.

It’s easy to get caught up in daily tasks without thinking about the big picture. Clear time on your calendar to think about your strategy. Which actions are yielding the most results? What is the most effective way to leverage your time and your team? Are your tasks getting you closer to your desired outcomes? Is your plan the right one to achieve your long-term goals? To work smart, you must carve out time to think.

8. Evaluate and adjust.

Which elements of your plan worked? Which ones did not? Adjust and continuously tweak your strategy. There is always room to improve – those fundraisers who are introspective and identify these opportunities are the ones who get better.

If we said that 100 other miscellaneous tasks will not arise daily, we’d be kidding ourselves. But purposeful, strategic management of your tasks, giving priority to those that lead to gifts, will help you more effectively raise funds for your organization. Get out of your office, meet with your constituents, and secure support that fulfills your organization’s mission.  The keys to success are in your hands!

About the Author

In her seventh year with CCS, Natalie has provided strategic fundraising counsel to independent schools, faith-based organizations, arts and cultural institutions, human service organizations, and more, directing campaigns that have cumulatively raised $200 million. Natalie is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), chairs CCS’s Recruitment Committee for her region, facilitates training courses for CCS staff, and presents fundraising sessions at AFP conferences. Natalie was recently recognized for her work in CCS’s Mid- and South-Atlantic Region with the Dennick M. W. Skeels Memorial Award.