To be effective at fundraising — to generate RESULTS — you do not need a lot of TIME, but you need the ability to FOCUS your time.
Again calling upon Drucker’s wisdom, he observes that effective executives “consolidate their ‘discretionary’ time into the largest possible continuing units.” They BLOCK their time around a task.
Here are two scenarios:
Scenario A: Executive devotes 20% of her week to fundraising activities. Scenario B: Executive sets aside two 4-hour blocks in her schedule to focus on fundraising activities.
Scenario B will be more effective every time.
I have books, stacks of research papers, and years of observation to support this; one interesting nugget that summarizes it all is from Cal Newport in his book, Deep Work:
“The problem… is that when you switch from some Task A to another Task B, your attention doesn’t immediately follow—a residue of your attention remains stuck thinking about the original task.” This creates Attention Residue.
AND it turns out task-switching requires enormous energy! We have to redirect millions of circuits in our brain — in effect — loading a new activity into our conscious mind. That takes real mental energy, and we can only do this so many times in a day until we are faced with task-switching fatigue.
We should also think about how we block time to focus. It’s not reasonable to carve out large chunks of time for each task. However, we can carve out time for similar types of mental activities, which is called ‘batching.’ Here’s a great story about Wharton professor and author Adam Grant (also from Deep Work).
Though Grant’s productivity depends on many factors, there’s one idea in particular that seems central to his method: the batching of hard but important intellectual work into long, uninterrupted stretches. Grant performs this batching at multiple levels. Within the year, he stacks his teaching into the fall semester, during which he can turn all of his attention to teaching well and being available to his students. (This method seems to work, as Grant is currently the highest-rated teacher at Wharton and the winner of multiple teaching awards.) By batching his teaching in the fall, Grant can then turn his attention fully to research in the spring and summer, and tackle this work with less distraction.
Grant also batches his attention on a small time scale. Within a semester dedicated to research, he alternates between periods where his door is open to students and colleagues, and periods where he isolates himself to focus completely and without distraction on a single research task. (He typically divides the writing of a scholarly paper into three discrete tasks: analyzing the data, writing a full draft, and editing the draft into something publishable.) During these periods, which can last up to three or four days, he’ll often put an out-of-office auto-responder on his e-mail so correspondents will know not to expect a response. “It sometimes confuses my colleagues,” he told me. “They say, ‘You’re not out of office, I see you in your office right now!’” But to Grant, it’s important to enforce strict isolation until he completes the task at hand.
My guess is that Adam Grant doesn’t work substantially more hours than the average professor at an elite research institution (generally speaking, this is a group prone to workaholism), but he still manages to produce more than just about anyone else in his field. I argue that his approach to batching helps explain this distinction. In particular, by consolidating his work into intense and uninterrupted pulses, he’s leveraging the following law of productivity: High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus). If you believe this formula, then Grant’s habits make sense: By maximizing his intensity when he works, he maximizes the results he produces per unit of time spent working.
For you, batching might look like this:
Monday / Tuesday: Focus on visits.
Wednesday: Focus on follow-up and next week’s predisposition.
Thursday/Friday: Batch together (if possible) administrative duties.
I generally try to batch in half-day increments with some time in between to respond to emails. Effectively, this creates three ‘batches’ per day. Today’s batch looks like this:
7:00 – 10:00 Work on writing about sales culture (for website, book, clients)
10:00 – 1:00 Focused time for RESPONDING to incoming requests and administrative requirements (including meetings)
2:00 – 5:00 Scheduled time to follow-up with prospects.
Many readers are familiar with mental state called ‘FLOW.’ It was termed by University of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in 1990. Most people think ‘FLOW’ is about productivity, but that’s actually not the point. FLOW is first and foremost about personal fulfillment and satisfaction. We are MOST fulfilled when we’re immersed (read: FOCUSED) in something that is deeply challenging. This ‘state’ is what is termed flow state.
From the archives – This is a piece our founder, Tom Suddes, wrote in 2010. I’ve found myself using the EAP framework a lot these past few weeks. Thought it would be a great time to share with our readership.
Here’s a very simple way to get stuff done: Make EVERYTHING A PROJECT!
This simple concept, guiding principle if you will, is for anybody who is trying to achieve a goal, make a quantum leap or change the world.
This idea has been developed over the last 10 or 15 years within our company and with our clients. It drives everything we do.
Here are the 8 steps of every PROJECT:
Team Leader. Obviously, critical decision. This pick needs to underscore the idea of ‘WHO’ not ‘HOW’! The right Team Leader will do whatever it takes to reach the project’s goals. They will be collaborative coaches… but also be able to make decisions. Paraphrasing Bill Gates, the strategy for a given project must be in one person’s head.
Project Team. This is all about TALENT. Diverse. Eclectic. Focused on strengths. Clear roles. *Steve Elder, a For Impact Partner and one of the best ‘Team Leaders’ ever, also says, “If your Project Team can’t fit in a mini-van, it’s too big.”
Goals. Clear. Concise. Compelling. Must define ‘success’. Believable. Achievable. Always better if big, hairy and audacious. *Goal should translate into a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.
Resources. People. Money. Tools. Support. Internal and External. Need vs. Want.
Barriers/Constraints. Direct tie to Resources. Scope. Budget. Size. Simplicity. ‘White Space’. Rule of 3. *ANYBODY can do just about ANYTHING with an UNLIMITED BUDGET and NO TIME LIMIT! Constraints are what makes this a project.
Time Table. Not just a CONSTRAINT, but a way to set benchmarks, control flow, create AFE’s (Action Forcing Events).
Measurement. Again, Benchmarks. Sub-Goals. Critical Path. Accountability. Evaluation. Opportunities. And more. *Ancient cliche, but still rings true: “You GET what you MEASURE.”
Action Plan. Use these first 7 steps to create a simple, understandable, measurable ACTION PLAN that allows for constant FEEDBACK (adjustments, pivots, reallocation, etc.) and FEED FORWARD (Focus on the goals, etc.)
Some things we’ve learned:
Hollywood. These projects can be like a Hollywood movie. You bring together the most talented people you can, without regard to the department or org chart. Everyone comes together for a movie project and take it from concept to finished film. Then they disband and start again.
‘The Ticket Is Printed’. One of my favorite Disney ideas. When they put together a project and project team for a new ride/experience, the project team is given a date (deadline)… and then told that “The ticket is printed!” In other words, there’s going to be a line of kids (and their parents) waiting on that given day to get on the ride. (Therefore, it better be done.)
Scope of a PROJECT. Can range from a $300M Campaign to a 1-Night Signature Event… and everything in between.
Every level of the Today | Tomorrow | Forever Model is a project (Leadership Societies, President Circles, Project Initiatives, Legacy Goals, etc.)
The 3 Circles/3 Buckets are PROJECTS, as well as the Programs and Priorities within each.
Every one of our TOP INVESTORS is a PROJECT… demanding a strategy, action plan, etc.
No Team ‘Meetings’
Rather, gather team together whenever needed for brainstorming, mind mapping, engagement, whatever.
Disseminate information before the gathering.
Quick review of goals and status.
Make everything actionable. (“We can actually do something when we leave.”)
Steve Jobs always challenged WHO attended and WHY people were in a meeting.
3 Parts to a Project.
Finally, here’s a great thought from Steven Pressfield’s terrific book, Do the Work. He says that “Every project can be divided into 3 parts: beginning, middle, end.”
Then he simply says, “Decide what comprises the beginning, the middle and the end… and then fill in the gaps!”
He also says to constantly ask this question, “What is this damn thing (PROJECT) about? (What’s the goal? What’s the theme? What does success look like?)”
CELEBRATE… early and often.
CELEBRATE small wins, benchmarks achieved, sub-goals reached…
And, of course, every FAILURE! (If you’re not FAILING somewhere within your project… you’re not pushing hard enough.)
Through the first half of the twentieth century, experts thought it was impossible for a human to run a mile in under four minutes. Then, on a rainy day, in 1954, a skinny medical student from Oxford named Roger Bannister became the first person to run a sub-four-minute-mile. He electrified the world when he ran 5,280 feet in 3:59.4.
Sir Roger Bannister passed away this weekend at the age of 88.
Bannister showed others what was possible. In the decade that followed Bannister's run, five more runners achieved a 4 minute mile. And in the next decade… now knowing that the human body was capable of a four-minute mile.. 300 hundred runners would go on to break this time barrier.
This first-of-a-kind achievement, followed by many others that replicated became known as The Roger Bannister Effect.
“If you want to understand the Bannister effect,” says high-performance psychologist Michael Gervais, “you have to understand that the brain tells stories. When most hear about an impossible feat— the sub-four-minute mile— our first reaction is: ‘Not real, no way, not possible.’ But we have a strong need to make meaning out of experience and this new reality forces us to change our story. We move to, ‘That’s crazy, far out, unreal.’ Pretty soon, we accept this new reality and shift our paradigm further and this engages imagination. We start imagining the impossible as possible. What does impossible feel like, sound like, look like. And then we start to be able to see ourselves doing the impossible— that’s the secret…”
Think about The Bannister Effect in the world of social innovation, philanthropy, and impact! What limiting stories do we tell ourselves? What is possible if we ignore those stories? What if we are the FIRST to show others what’s possible?
Observe — in your community — how a civic leader makes a $1M gift. Suddenly, everyone is emboldened to ask that person for $1M.
Don’t make decisions for your prospects!! Many DECIDE something can’t be achieved. But we only decided that on the basis that it has never been done before.
Use the Rogister Bannister metaphor!
Think about your work. Perhaps you strive to achieve a Roger Bannister Effect for social innovation. What if we could show others what was possible? With changing, saving, or impacting lives?
“Just as Roger Bannister did in 1954, we want to show others what’s possible!” – You
Note: I first posted this in 2011. I’m posting again because I’m still tired of reading lengthy strategic plans that don’t derive from, or result in, real strategic clarity.
In the past year, I have been with several foundations that have asked orgs for ‘strategic plans.’ Speaking to the foundations directly, I can say that what they’re really asking for is STRATEGIC CLARITY — not 40 pages of ‘stuff.’ It’s a vocab issue.
IMPACT drives INCOME. In order to get funding results we [The Suddes Group] always have to back our way into helping an organization get REAL strategic clarity, so that we have a clean strategy, message, and case for support for funders. Funding, at this point, then simply becomes about execution. We can coach and train people to execute.
Strategic Plan v. Strategic Clarity
Think about the difference in these two terms.
Every organization needs strategic clarity and a 1000-day action plan. They need to have everyone on the same page about:
The purpose (the WHY) and the vision (the ultimate goal) (at 30,000’).
This should fit on a napkin.
No more than THREE* simple strategic priorities (at 14,000’) that advance the organization toward the goal, aligning with purpose.
These should fit on the back of that napkin.
*Drucker was even simpler. He said every organization should have at most TWO priorities… WOW!
A 100-day (near-term) plan of action tied to each priority and a 1000-day plan of action with benchmarks that run more fluid for quarterly review.
This should fit on one sheet of paper (maybe two), if you stay at the strategic level.
Every day we speak with someone who needs or wants a ‘strategic plan.’ I can’t identify with that term anymore because it means so many different things. In each case though, they need clarity and simplicity. Only about half the time do they need to do a lot of consensus-building (think: visits, dialogue, and time) to bring everyone on the same page.
“You haven’t taught it until they’ve learned it.” – John Wooden
Tied to this simple nugget, Bill Parcells (in his biography) describes a lesson from his early days of coaching. Parcells was an assistant coach under Dean Pryor. A player messed up in practice and Parcells recalls ‘unloading on the guy.’
Pryor, voice raised, cut Parcells off. “Well, you obviously didn’t go over it enough, because he didn’t get it.” The teachable moment was the first time that Pryor had ever scolded his assistant, and it happened in front of a bench full of players.
“That cut like a knife to the heart,” Parcells remembers. “But it was one of the best lessons I ever learned.” Regardless of the mistake made by a player, his coach shared responsibility for any lack of execution. The onus falls on the coach to foster an environment conducive to learning—and retaining—instruction. Over the decades, Parcells would convey this same lesson countless times to his coaches when they blamed a player for not following instructions.
The definition of an artifact is any object made – or altered! – by human beings, where the alteration gives it new meaning or purpose.
Followers of this blog and our publishing will be familiar with the concept of an engagement tool. We advocate for having a simple message and simple tool (1-2 pages, ideally).
More than that, it should feature a lot of white space so you can WRITE and DRAW on the tool with a prospect!
Think about the last time you were in a meeting and someone started drawing as a means of communication. One of you probably tried to keep the indecipherable scrawls (because they captured the experience of the idea sharing).
When you are finished, the marked-up engagement tool becomes an ARTIFACT of the conversation. Your drawing… your scribbling… gives the tool new meaning.
(It’s a hallmark of a good visit when a prospect asks, “Can I keep this?”)
(see this example video @ 7:00 mins for an illustration)
Every organization is perfectly designed to get the results they are getting.
This is one of our refrains. Whereas many consulting companies do feasibility studies or manage capital campaigns, at The Suddes Group our aim is to help an organization *design* for the right results — and then help implement to get those results.
As is the case with design work and culture change, this is often messy, iterative, and complex. It requires that we identify leadership and the process by which to make necessary decisions (that will move the enterprise forward).
Drawing on several frameworks, here are the decision-making modes that we seek to identify, name, and direct.
Autocratic: While this can have a negative application, there are times when a decision just needs to be made, in order to move forward quickly. Leaders of social impact organizations tend to default to building consensus, but during an organization’s infancy, or when there is no ‘right’ decision, it might require that someone ‘just make a decision.’
Input still has one (clearly defined) decision-maker, but that person gathers input from others first; this style places an emphasis on participation, listening, and openness.
Democratic and Consensus: These are similar in some ways — they both favor a majority (or highest vote tally). Stylistically, a democratic decision-making process can sometimes be polarizing (think: Congress). In contrast, consensus is about finding an option that tries to build the most bridges, and the most understanding of different points of view. Note: Practically speaking, you can see the difference in this way — a consensus-building process requires many more rounds of back-and-forth, revisions, etc.
Unanimous: This is the hardest and most time-consuming option, to get everyone involved to agree on the decision. It requires a deep commitment from the team to listen, to let go, and to move forward as one.
The power of these styles comes from being deliberate about DECLARING them and then COMMUNICATING them within a process or plan.
When asked for a productivity tip, Warren Buffet once said something along the lines of, “It’s simple. I do one thing at a time and I don’t start something else until I’m finished with that one thing.”
If there is any one “secret” of effectiveness, it is concentration. Effective executives do first things first and they do one thing at a time….
Concentration is dictated… by the fact that most of us find it hard enough to do well even one thing at a time, let alone two. Mankind is indeed capable of doing an amazingly wide diversity of things; humanity is a “multipurpose tool.” But the way to apply productively mankind’s great range is to bring to bear a large number of individual capabilities on one task…
This is the “secret” of those people who “do so many things” and apparently so many difficult things. They do only one at a time. As a result, they need much less time in the end than the rest of us…
The people who get nothing done often work a great deal harder… the typical executive tries to do several things at once.
We can almost always diagnose a problem with a case for support (or funding story) by using the Altitude Framework. And, what’s interesting is that organizations tend to need help at a single level of messaging versus all or multiple levels.
We can organize messaging challenges into these three levels of clarity:
At 30,000′ – Toward what end? (This is a WHY question)
At 14,000′ – Where is the money going?
At 3′ – What’s the math?
Note: There are some supplemental questions based on circumstance and sector. For example, a social enterprise needs to be able to talk clearly about the business model (explicitly) but, I would argue that topic is covered (conceptually) under ‘knowing the math.’
Here is how we often see the lack of message clarity playing out:
At 30,000′ – Toward what end?
Organizations that struggle at 30,000’ tend to be doing sector-changing work (and often in a crowded space). They focus too much on how they’re different, or the nuances of their model, instead of being really clear about the simple, visceral reasons WHY someone should care: “This is the problem we’re solving!” Or, “This is how we want to change the world!”
Tell-tale sign: They often lead their narrative with a theory of change.
Health (care) Transformation.
At 14,000′ – Where is the money going? (Or, what are the funding priorities?)
Organizations that struggle at the 14,000’ level tend to operate on an (established) funding model other than philanthropy. They’re not good at talking about how they’ll use funds to do X, Y, or Z. Culturally, they might start a fundraising campaign simply to augment a different business model.
Tell-tale sign: An organization with a multi-million-dollar operating budget wants to start a campaign for unrestricted funds.
Global RFP-Grant-Based NGOs.
Large earned-income organizations.
At 3′ – What’s the (Case for Support) Math?
Organizations that struggle with the math tend to be those with built-in funding prospects. A great example here is a school. Alumni and parents will no doubt support the school, but the the questions then become about how all the math works out. Will it increase tuition? Will it be sustainable? What is the cost? How will this funding project impact the future business model (tuition/admission)?
Tell-tale sign: A mentality of “If we build it, they will fund.”
To be clear: every organization needs to address these three case questions. I am just outlining some general trends and questions that might be helpful in uncovering your challenge.