Does your non-profit have an ‘Abs of Steel’ conference strategy?

abs1The month of October is brutal for me this year. On top of working with my existing client base, I am attending three different conferences in three different regions to help another client with implementation of a specific training track aimed at executive directors and school superintendents. As I attend these conferences, I see non-profit professionals hopping from session-to-session and find myself wondering, “What is their conference strategy?”

When I was an executive director, I loved attending conferences and trainings. It felt like I was nurturing the inner non-profit professional inside of me. However, after a few years on the job, I found an entire bookshelf in my office full of conference materials and notes. I wasn’t using them. I wasn’t referencing back to them. They were just gathering dust.

The analogy I use to describe this useless activity involves the popular “Abs of Steel” workout DVD, and it goes something like this:

For those of you who know me, you know that I do not possess abs of steel. In fact, I don’t possess anything of steel anywhere on my body. So, if I went to the mall and purchased an Abs of Steel workout DVD, some people might consider that a step in the right direction. This is akin to you deciding to attend a conference or training session.

However, if I came home with my new Abs of Steel workout DVD, popped a tub of buttery popcorn, and watched the DVD while sitting on the couch and eating that popcorn, I would be no closer to my goal of obtaining abs of steel. This is akin to you attending a conference, coming home with a bunch of notes and materials, and putting them on your shelf to collect dust.

The reality of the situation is that you need to do the exercises on the workout DVD in order to achieve the desired result. Of course, the same is true with what you learn at the conference. When you get home, you need to turn your new-found knowledge into action. The act of doing what you learned will build your organizational muscles and grow your organizational capacity.

So, what is your conference abs of steel strategy? Do you have one?

todolistAfter a few years of proverbially eating popcorn on the couch after attending conferences and trainings, I decided to do something different. My strategy was simple. Rather than taking notes on what the trainer was saying, I only wrote down action items that came to mind while listening to the speaker.

These were things I planned to transfer to my To Do List when I got home.

I decided that I didn’t need to write down what the trainer was saying because they were most likely handing out copies of their PowerPoint presentation along with a dump truck of materials. Besides, those notes were no good to me if they were just going to sit on my book shelf and collect dust. Right?

I’ll admit that this strategy didn’t always work perfectly. Oftentimes, I’d get home from a conference and my desk was piled high and my To Do List was long. Nevertheless, I found this strategy to be better than the previous one and so I kept it.

I personally liked the “action-focus” of what I was trying to accomplish.

As I facilitate my sessions and sit in my exhibitor booth during the month of October, I can’t help but wonder what are other people’s conference strategies. Are you popping popcorn or are you doing something else? Are you building your organizational muscles or are you just making yourself feel better because you now own the transformational resource?

Please scroll down to the comment box below and share your conference and training strategies. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

The power of writing it down

inkWelcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking at posts from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

First let me start this O.D. Fridays post with an apology to DonorDreams blog readers.

For the last week, I’ve been in St. Louis with hundreds of Boys & Girls Clubs from the Midwest and Southwest regions. What an amazing conference with inspiring stories and talented board volunteers and staff members! Hats off to the national staff who planned and executed a flawless conference plan.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing for me and this blog platform.

I didn’t post anything on Monday because my ride to St. Louis picked me up at 5:55 am, and I also missed the mark on Thursday because I needed to be in my exhibitor booth at 7:00 am.

Here are all of the things I’ve been trying to balance this week:

  • Writing for the DonorDreams blog community
  • Managing and staffing my exhibitor booth
  • Organizing and facilitating a training track
  • Networking
  • Working with other clients back home who are under contract and in need of attention

For those of you who know me, I usually balance competing projects fairly well. So, why did this week turn out so messy? Why did I drop the ball and not blog on Monday and Thursday?

I think some of the answers to these questions can be found on John Greco’s July 23, 2013 johnponders post titled “Ink It“. In this post, John drills down on the following Chinese proverb:

The faintest ink lasts longer than the best memory.”

Heading into this challenging week, I didn’t write anything down. I was operating with everything in my head.

I am not just talking about the power of task lists and calendars.  This has everything to do with brain science and in some instances personality types.

Now let’s take a 180 degree turn and about-face with this idea.

If you buy into what John talks about in “Ink It,” then what are you doing to encourage your:

  • staff to write things down?
  • board volunteers to write things down?
  • donors to write things down?

Again, we’re not necessarily talking about task lists and time management, which is how I started the post.

What if your board members were asked to write out their personal action plans for the upcoming year?

What if donors were asked to write out their personal stories about why they support your agency? What if you published those testimonials on your agency’s blog or Facebook page?

Would the result be a deeper sense of engagement?

Would board members be more likely to follow through on what they commit to doing? Would donors end up increasing their contributions?

I dunno . . . but if you buy into what John says about the act of writing something down, then these are questions every non-profit professional should be asking themselves.

Have you ever asked donors to share their story in writing? What was the result? How did you use it? What about engaging board members in writing out their commitments as part of a future focused action planning process centered around your strategic planning process?

Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences.

A side note of appreciation

Throughout the week at the Boys & Girls Club conference in St. Louis, I’ve been approached by countless numbers of people asking me about this blog.

Just last night, I was dragging myself off of the elevator on my way to another late night bedtime when a fellow passenger (who I’ve never met and don’t know), said “You’re that blogger! I missed your post this morning.

I just want to take a moment to sincerely thank all of you who subscribe and read this blog. I very much appreciate your time, loyalty and complements.

It is easy for me to get into that “Fred the Baker” from Dunkin’ Donuts mindset of “It’s time to make the donuts.” However, this week reminds me that this blog and your daily work is all about mission-focus, your clients, and making this world a better place.

Thank you to those of you who re-inspired me.

I’m also glad that I’ve written all of this down in ink so that this inspiration won’t fade too quickly.  😉

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

What are the golf balls in your non-profit organization’s jar?

I have people in my life who I consider friends that like to spam my email inbox. I bet you have friends like that, too. It isn’t malicious, but it is annoying. However, every once in a great while they catch me in the right mood, and I open one of those emails. Typically, I find sappy stuff about friendship and other times it is a modern-day chain letter. This last weekend, I opened one of those emails and found a fun little video about life and priorities. After a little reflection, I decided  there is a lot of wisdom in that video as it pertains to your non-profit organization.

Rather than spam your email inbox, you can either click here or on the picture below to view the short little inspiration video produced by

Borowski video screen shot

Cute . . . sappy . . . everything that I promised. Right?

However, what if the pickle jar in the video wasn’t your life, but it instead represented your non-profit organization? What would those “golf balls” (aka those things that are most important to your organizational mission and success)?

Here is a short list (in no particular order) of what I think your golf balls should be:

  1. Clients
  2. Staff
  3. Board volunteers
  4. Donors
  5. Program volunteers

jar of golf ballsI suspect many of you are nodding your heads right now. However, stop and think about your last week and where you spent your time. I suspect that many of you focused lots of time, energy and resources on the pebbles, sand and liquid in your non-profit jar such as:

  • an upcoming fundraising event or campaign
  • facility issues
  • technology challenges
  • bookkeeping or accounting issues
  • donor database administration
  • reconciliation activities

I suspect many of you are now starting to rationalize how these activities are related to the golf balls in your non-profit pickle jar. If you’re doing that, then I encourage you to STOP.

Yes, everything is interrelated. Of course! But take a moment to step back and see the bigger picture.

It is far to easy to focus your attention as a leader on things at the granular level (aka sand). In my experience, leaders are able to focus on the little things as well as the big things.

When putting your calendar together, make sure that your schedule reflects BOTH big and little things. For example, you should be sitting down with your board volunteers in between board meeting as well as putting the agenda and board packet together. You should be meeting with the annual campaign committee to plan the next pledge drive as well as sitting down with donors over a cup of coffee to talk about how their contribution is making magic happen.

The pickle jar analogy can be used to analyze any number of activities related to your non-profit organization. You could be asking questions like:

  • What are the golf balls in my fundraising plan?
  • What are the golf balls in my board development plan?
  • What are the golf balls in my program plan?

The following are links to other bloggers who offer other lists of golf balls for other pickle jars:

Did I get your brain working on this wonderful Monday morning? Which pickle jar are you thinking about? What are the golf balls in that jar? What strategies do you use to make sure you aren’t just focusing on the sand as the days and weeks slip through our hands? Do you have time management best practices that you would like to share with your fellow non-profit friends?

Please take a moment to scroll down to the comment box and share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Are you too busy or are you just prioritizing?

time1Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

In a post titled “Take Your Time,” John talks about the difference between not having time and not taking the time to do important things. I especially love how he starts his post off with a quote from The Merovingian in The Matrix, who said: “Who has time? Who has time? But then if we do not ever take time, how can we ever have time?”

I’ve been stewing on this for days because if I had a nickel for every time I heard a non-profit professional say something about not having enough time to do something, then I’d be a very rich man. Here are a few very real examples:

  • I didn’t have time to recruit an annual campaign committee and engage them in writing a plan.
  • I don’t have time to work on adding a major gifts initiative to our agency’s resource development program. And don’t get me started on planned giving.
  • Critique meeting? Are you kidding? We don’t have time to do that. We’re already late for the next special event.
  • I didn’t get around to writing an annual performance plan for my direct reports because there just wasn’t enough time.

I am the first person to point out that the non-profit community is severely under-resourced, and this means time is a precious commodity for non-profit professionals who are wearing multiple hats. HOWEVER . . . John pulls no punches when he says: “When we say we don’t have the time to do something, what we’re really saying is that something is not a priority.”

So, I find myself wondering:

  • Why is a written annual campaign plan (aka project management plan) not a priority?
  • How can it not be a priority to write a performance management plan for your direct reports?
  • What can be more important than working on complex fundraising tools that will bring in more funding?

time2I will be the first person to admit that I sometimes find myself practicing “avoidance behavior;” however, I know that this isn’t productive. More importantly it is destructive behavior and something that a non-profit organization cannot afford.

Do you find yourself routinely saying: “There just aren’t enough hours in the day to . . .”? If so, then I strongly suggest that you do an informal self assessment. You can accomplish this by doing the following:

  • Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper,
  • List all of the things you find yourself saying that you don’t have time to do on one side,
  • List all of the things you decided to do that same day on the other side of the paper, and
  • Go item by item and ask yourself:  “Was this more important than . . .”

You may just discover that you’re not prioritizing your time effectively. Or you may not. Regardless of the outcome, I think this process is good to go through periodically just to make sure you’re prioritizing your time effectively.

If you do go through this exercise and discover that you are doing a good job with prioritizing your time, then please stop saying that you don’t have enough time. Own the fact that you have limited time and need to make tough decisions about what gets accomplished. Once you start doing this, you might be surprised at how many people start telling you that what you’re deciding not to do is very important. Once THAT starts happening, then you have achieved the necessary leverage to turn the tables and ask them to please lend a hand with what they have just described as a very important task.

How can they say ‘NO’?

Do you find yourself saying that you don’t have enough time? How do you ensure that you’re prioritizing effectively? Please scroll down and share your best practices with your non-profit friends and family in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

What your non-profit agency can learn from the congressional fiscal cliff debate?

procrastinationI hope your New Years celebration was fun, safe and full of family and friends. Welcome to 2013 and an exciting new opportunity for you and your non-profit organization.

Rather than host a party this year, John and I went over to our friend’s — Lynn & Maggie — house and spent the night rather than worrying about driving home on New Years Eve. When we woke up on New Years Day, we turned on CNN to see what (if anything) had happened with the congressional fiscal cliff negotiations and debate in Washington D.C.

While watching the coverage, Maggie innocently asked, “Why do these guys always wait to the last-minute to make such important decisions?

As I chewed on her question, I realized this isn’t just a problem that haunts Congress. I see my for-profit friends struggle with the issue of procrastination. I also see many of my non-profit clients struggle with it.

While there are likely many reasons for procrastination (e.g. not having enough resources to adequately staff your agency or not being able to construct a reasonable annual performance plan), I discovered after some clicking around online that our friends at Psychology Today believe it goes much deeper than what you may think.

Rather than ruin the surprise, click here to read what Psychology Today. (Spoiler alert: Freud was wrong. It wasn’t because of your mother, but it may have something to do with your father. Uh-oh!)

After reading the online article about ‘WHY‘ I started clicking around for some answers about ‘WHAT‘ to do about this. Click here to read a post over at Lifehack blog titled “11 Practical Ways to Stop Procrastination”.

Honestly, I don’t think Congress played a game of chicken with the fiscal cliff and continues to risk a double dip recession because they are chronic procrastinators. I suspect this continues to happen because when you’re engaged in a negotiation, time plays a role when it comes to gaining leverage.

However, non-profit professionals such as yourself shouldn’t ignore the awesome question that Maggie asked on the morning of New Years Day. If you or your employees are procrastinations or if procrastination is embedded in your organizational culture, you might want to make a New Years resolution to tackle it in 2013. Why? Because this kind of behavior leads to dysfunction, drama and nothing good for your agency.

I hope you enjoyed the two links pertaining to the ‘WHY’  and ‘WHAT’. If you have other online resources to share, please do so in the comment box below because I’ve made this one of my New Years resolutions, too.

[Editors Note: By the way, please remember that we’re still on an irregular blog posting schedule this week and won’t resume “normal and routine” until next week — January 7-11.]

Happy New Year and . . . Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Advice for all non-profits: “It is time to talk human again!”

So, I was sitting in my living room watching television and trying to multitask last night when one of the commercials that I was trying to ignore jumped out of my television, grabbed me by my shirt collar and shook me hard. It was an advertisement by Skype and it was very cute.  You probably know which one I am talking about . . . it is the commercial with the middle school aged boy and girl passing notes in class. I’ve embedded it below if you want to view it again.


I especially love the following line in this ad:

“Long before email threads, we turned to each other. It is when the spirit of collaboration meant more than an ‘FYI’ or ‘Reply All’. When messages were passed along by simple gestures, validated by an honest expression.”

Long after this commercial was over, my mind kept straying back to it. I must have re-played it over and over and over again in my head all night long. After a few hours, it dawned on me that there is something about this message that obviously resonates with me and my point of view about non-profit organizations.

For the last few years, I became more focused on using technology to engage people (e.g. non-profit clients, donors, board volunteers, etc) in a way that felt efficient and productive. Thinking back on it, I have tried all sorts of technology tools all in the name of saving time:

  • Email (Ugh . . . I can send wickedly long emails with lots of detail)
  • Google Docs
  • GoToMeeting
  • Conference call bridges
  • e-newsletters

I suspect this trend is rooted in the idea of being respectful of a donor and volunteer’s time. After all, life is so busy and very fast nowadays. However, are we really being more efficient? Are we really getting more done? Are we really simplifying things or do our efforts really just de-humanize the experience and end up doing more harm than good?

I think United Airlines hit the nail on the head more than 20 years ago when they run this iconic television ad:


Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I believe technology is here to stay, and we all better learn how to appropriately use it to keep our donors and volunteers informed and engaged.

I suspect that technology will also continue to creep into our lives and become a stronger fundraising solicitation tool over the next decade. I also suspect that more and more board and committee meetings will happen over Skype and other online video platforms.

Before you totally surrender your non-profit and its relationships to the “Technology Gods,” I encourage you to take the following advice from our friends at United Airlines and Skype:

  • Scale back your email and non-personal technology efforts with volunteers and donors.
  • Don’t make-up reasons for volunteers to attend a committee meeting or board meeting. Make sure that the agenda contains important stuff.
  • Don’t make-up reasons to sit down with a donor. Make sure every touch is engaging, enlightening, fulfilling, and fun for them. It is more about them and less about you. Right? Connecting people with your mission in an emotional way is a recipe for success! And technology is anti-emotional.
  • Visit people in-person, but do so in a way that feels important and not a waste of time.
  • Try your hand at online video conferencing. Of all the technology available to you, this one somewhat allows some sense of personal interaction. Start small with an individual or committee first.

I think we can embrace technology in a way that makes sense and is not de-humanizing. It will take a conscious effort on your part. Are you up to the challenge? Or are you just going to continue ‘forwarding’ that email thread with an attachment and clicking ‘reply all”? Please scroll down and share your thoughts about either commercial? Did either have an impact on your non-profit point of view? I would love to hear your thoughts and what you plan on doing about it.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Do you have “balance” in your non-profit life?

Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

Today, we’re focusing on a post that John titled “Catch More Life“. In that post, he talks about work-life balance, values and dreams. I think this is an especially appropriate post for this Friday because we’ve been talking about time management all week-long, which begs the question of work-life balance.

I loved John’s post this week because it came at just the right time in my life. A few weeks ago, I celebrated a huge anniversary — the day I decided to let go and “free fall” in life. It was the end of May 2011, when I left my job at Boys & Girls Clubs of America. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but I knew that I couldn’t stay on the path that I was on.

After taking the summer to decompress and think things through, I realized that life is too short and decided to cease the moment. I started blogging. I invested time in doing things that made me happy. I opened my own small non-profit consulting practice in October 2011 and resumed what I love doing, which is helping non-profit organizations build capacity.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t do any assessment or evaluation work on my decisions until October 2012, but the anniversary of my departure from Boys & Girls Clubs of America threw me a curveball and I started asking:

  • Was this the right decision?
  • Am I making enough money to sustain the consulting practice?
  • Do I need to go back to work for “The Man”.   😉   (Sorry, Fred)
  • Do I need to change certain things about my consulting practice?

I started feeling the anxiety that comes with assessment and evaluation . . . until I read John’s post.

While I’m still not sure that I’ve made the right decision or if I am on the right path with my new business, I feel better about putting my anxiety away until October. I also feel a little better about the decision I made a year ago because at the core of that decision was exactly what the fisherman in John’s post is trying to do.

I also find myself concerned this morning about the state of the non-profit sector. Philanthropy News Digest reported a few years ago about a study conducted by the Meyer Foundation:

“. . . young nonprofit staff are concerned that challenges such as work-life balance, insufficient lifelong earning potential, a lack of mentorship, and overwhelming fundraising responsibilities may prevent them from becoming nonprofit executives.”

As I look at this report finding and then look at the fisherman in John’s post “Catch More Life,” I find myself nodding my head and thinking that the word “challenges” is an under-statement.

If you are an executive director, you shouldn’t dismiss this phenomenon because it fundamentally threatens the long-term viability of your agency. Perhaps, the best thing you can do is:

  • Sit down with your employees,
  • Figure out what they value in life and offer to help them achieve it while they work at your agency,
  • Help them develop a career and life path, and
  • In the final analysis, appreciate their choices as you figure out how to simultaneously meet your agency’s needs.

If you are a board volunteer, you should take a hard look at this report and do a number of things like address it in your organization’s strategic plan and compensation & benefits plan. You should also demand that your executive director model work-life balance and promote it.

If you are a donor, please consider funding capacity building initiatives that help non-profits grow their fundraising muscles, which in turn will bring more resources to throw at this challenge.

The non-profit sector is at-risk and we are our own worst enemies. Is it possible for the fishermen and businessmen from John’s post to co-exist in the non-profit sector?

Do you personally have a work-life balance challenge? How are you addressing it? Does your agency have a balance issue with regards to the organization’s culture? Are you addressing it? If so, how? Please scroll down and share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Non-Profit Time Management: The Trick About Delegation

This week’s “Mondays with Marissa” post was titled “Non-Profit Time Management: Scheduling Social Media Updates“. After reading Marissa’s weekly pearl of wisdom, it got me thinking. During tough economic times, donors are asking non-profits to do more with less, which is leading to longer task lists for both executive directors and fundraising professionals. All of this contributes to a lot of stress in the workplace. In honor of Marissa’s awesome blog post, I am dedicating this week’s posts to the idea of looking more carefully at time-saving tips with regards to managing your agency and implementing your resource development program.

Let’s continue this conversation by looking at the difficult art of delegation.

It would be so simple to just say “delegate early and often” if you want to improve productivity at your non-profit organization; however, the truth of the matter is:  it is more complicated than that.

The Heaping Plate effect

Let’s think this through for a moment. Donors are telling non-profits to do more with less. From what I’ve seen in the last four years, non-profit boards did not respond by rolling up their sleeves and investing more time in serious fundraising. Instead, many of the boards I know circled the wagons and tried to “cut-cut-cut” their way out of crisis.

In the final analysis, those non-profit organizations are stretched very thin now, and they’re trying to run their pre-2008 program with a skeleton staff.

So, an executive director or fundraising professional might not be able to delegate their way to increased productivity because everyone’s plate is heaped too full of work.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that delegation can’t be effective; however, it will need to be done with volunteers (e.g. board volunteers, program volunteers, fundraising volunteers).

All hands on deck!

Trust But Verify

When I was an executive director, I learned that delegation is not a magic cure-all that made everything on my task list disappear. Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way.  🙁

For example, I would delegate a task to staff or volunteers and expect that it would get done on or before the agreed upon deadline. It never failed . . . the task would never get done on time and I usually ended up taking it back (while muttering under my breath something like “if you want it done right, you got to do it yourself“).

I really was wrong. In reality, I just didn’t know how to effectively delegate, and it wasn’t until someone share with me those immortal Ronald Reagan words — “Trust But Verify” — that I start getting better at delegation.

I learned to use my Microsoft Outlook task list to manage BOTH my tasks and the things I delegated. For example, if I delegated a grant compliance report to a staff person, then I would add it to Outlook with a digital reminder to check-in and see how things were going a few weeks before the deadline. I’d do the same thing with volunteers who agreed to do things for the agency.

Since opening my non-profit consulting practice, I’ve started using Basecamp, which is an online project management service to keep track of who is doing what and by when.

Have you used other tools other than Microsoft Outlook to track and manage things you’ve delegated to staff and volunteers? If so, please scroll down and share your best practice in the comment section of this blog. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Non-Profit Time Management: Letting Go of It All

This week’s “Mondays with Marissa” post was titled “Non-Profit Time Management: Scheduling Social Media Updates“. After reading Marissa’s weekly pearl of wisdom, it got me thinking. During tough economic times, donors are asking non-profits to do more with less, which is leading to longer task lists for both executive directors and fundraising professionals. All of this contributes to a lot of stress in the workplace. In honor of Marissa’s awesome blog post, I am dedicating this week’s posts to the idea of looking more carefully at time-saving tips with regards to managing your agency and implementing your resource development program.

Let’s continue this conversation by looking at David Allen’s Mind-Sweep concept.

I don’t know about you, but when I’ve found myself “under the gun” to produce, I feel like something has a hold over me. I can best describe it as a “gripping feeling” or a “paralysis”.  When I feel this way, my productivity falls dramatically. I think this happens because I am concerned about all of the plates that I have spinning. I get too focused on all of the things I need to do and not focused enough on actually doing them.

A few years ago, when things were especially bad, I asked my employer to send me to a time management training that was based on David Allen’s national best-selling book “Getting Things Done” (GTD).

While I still fundamentally consider myself more of a Frankin-Covey guy, there were a number of interesting and effective tactics that I took away from the GTD training. One of those tactics was called the “Mind-Sweep” and here is how it works:

  • Secure a pen and stack of loose leaf note cards or a small pad of paper.
  • Search your mind for things that you need to do — both big and small.
  • Write down one task per note card and put it in your inbox.
  • Once you’ve cleared everything out of your head — everything from buying a gallon of milk to calling a specific donor — go back through your inbox and prioritize the tasks in their order of importance.

If you think this exercise seems elementary, I wouldn’t argue with you. However, there is something “freeing” about dumping all of the contents of your brain out onto small pieces of paper. Whenever I have done this, my mind seems to focus and that gripping feeling seems to melt away. Essentially, I am no longer consumed with the thought that I may forget to do something, and I am able to spend time “doing” stuff.

While I’ve done this during extremely busy and chaotic times, I’ve also modified this approach and used it to help me in a Moves Management type of way. Simply focus your mind on an individual donor and everything that you think needs to happen to move them from one gift level to another, and dump it all out on one sheet of paper. The contents of that exercise become all of the “moves” (e.g. cultivation activities) that need to occur to position a donor to the next solicitation. Add dates to that list and put it in a spreadsheet (or your donor database Moves Management relationship tab), and TA-DA you have an individual donor plan.

The same approach can be applied to building a project management plan for a special event fundraiser.

The “mind-sweep” is more than just an organizing tactic, it is a time-savings strategy that can help you stop dithering and start doing. “Getting out of neutral” can be one of the best feelings in the world and can make all the difference when it comes to time management.

Have you ever felt gripped by a similar feeling that I described earlier in this blog post? If so, how did you get “unstuck” and moving forward again? Please scroll down and share a quick thought in the comment section. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Non-Profit Time Management: Managing Your Task List

Yesterday was Monday, which can only mean one thing at DonorDreams blog . . . it was “Mondays with Marissa” and her post was titled “Non-Profit Time Management: Scheduling Social Media Updates“. After reading Marissa’s post, it got me thinking. There has to be a million-and-one ways for non-profit professionals to improve upon managing their time. In honor of Marissa’s awesome blog post, I will take the next few days to look more carefully at time-saving tips with regards to managing your agency and implementing your resource development program.

Let’s start this conversation off by simply looking at your task list.

In the last seven days, I visited with two non-profit executive directors who both expressed utter frustration with how many things are currently on their “To Do List”. As you can imagine, not being able to get to the bottom of your task list every day adds stress to the average person’s life. This stress turns into chaos and panic when the list grows exponentially every day. Having been in the same situation, I  compare it to what I can only imagine drowning must feel like.

In an effort to help my friends, I pulled out and dusted off my old executive coaching textbooks. It was in a book titled “Coaching Questions” written by Tony Stoltzfus that I found the following nugget of good advice:

Make sure that EVERY item on that list adheres to the following four characteristics:

  • Clarity: I know exactly what to do
  • Datebook: This step can be scheduled at a specific time
  • Commitment: I know I will do this
  • Deadline: I’ve set a date for completion

I know this sounds simplistic, but when the item you’re adding to you task list doesn’t meet this four-part litmus test, then you have two options:

  1. Go back and secure the information you need in order to satisfy the test, or
  2. Don’t add it to your task list.

Tony also suggested that you re-think adding tasks to your To Do List when you hear yourself using language or phrases such as:

  • I could …
  • I might …
  • I’m thinking of …
  • If …

The reality is that times are chaotic for non-profit professionals. Donors are demanding that you do more with less. The simple prescription can be summed up in one word:


Good non-profit professionals, especially effective ones, know that they can’t do everything all at once. They seem to have mastered many of the simple aforementioned suggestions related to their task list.

How have you found focus at your non-profit agency as times have become more chaotic and demanding? Do you use a similar approach as described above? If so, how has that worked for you? What type of task list tools do you use?

Your time is in high demand and none of us should be re-creating the wheel every day. So, please scroll down the page and spend 60 seconds sharing a best practice or something that works for you with your fellow non-profit professionals.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847