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A Guide to Impeccable Timing for Fundraisers

At Graham-Pelton, we are big fans of the journalist and author Daniel Pink. His book To Sell Is Human is given to all new team members because it lays out the core elements of good fundraising. Pink’s more recent book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, also has practical tips that are relevant for development professionals. Below are some highlights from When and suggestions for applying them to your fundraising efforts.

  1. Most of us are either early birds or night owls. If you’re a morning person, use those first hours in the day to do your most mentally challenging work. This is a great time to start reviewing those prospect lists and board meeting minutes to look for action items. Save mundane tasks and open-ended projects, such as reading the paper or catching up on social media, for later in the day.
  2. If you’re a night person, flip the script: get mindless chores out of the way when you wake up and schedule time in the evening to focus on important projects. If you have a big meeting in the morning, get all preparation done the night before. Whether that’s making name tags, picking out your outfit, or deciding what to have for breakfast, don’t leave anything until the morning of.
  3. Take breaks. Research shows that the highest performers work in blocks of about an hour long, with regular breaks of 5-20 minutes. Making calls to donors, being on Zoom meetings, emailing, and writing reports is mentally draining work. Breaks allow you to think more clearly and be more creative. If possible, go for a walk outside. Both movement and fresh air will give you a recharge.
  4. Set interim goals. A goal of 500 meetings a year may feel overwhelming. A goal of 42 a month probably feels more doable. And a goal of two a day surely feels a lot better. Without interim goals, we are likely to procrastinate and fail. If it turns out two meetings a day is unrealistic, change that year-end goal now so that it isn’t hanging over you for the next 12 months.
  5. Hit the pause button. “Sometimes the best course of action is….inaction,” Pink writes. Give yourself time to reflect and formulate a thoughtful reply before responding to an email or a call. Avoid the temptation to give in to a constant state of urgency.
  6. If you are upset and ready to fire off an angry email, go ahead and draft it. Just don’t hit send! Give yourself 24 hours and then reread it. Drafting it will allow you to get all your thoughts down on the page (and will probably help you sleep better), but waiting to hit send will likely save you a lot of trouble down the road.
  7. Take two or three minutes at the end of the day to jot down your accomplishments since the morning. “Ending the day by recording what you have achieved can encode the entire day more positively,” according to Pink. It will give you a greater sense of progress in your work and will energize you to keep going. (It will also come in handy when you need to prepare for your annual job review.)
  8. Celebrate victories. As fundraisers, we often rush to the next donor, the next ask, the next goal. But it’s important to spend some time enjoying moments of success, too. This means celebrating victories when they happen. Ring a bell when a colleague closes a gift (or give them a shout-out by email or on Slack if you are working remotely). Send a personal note to your events manager for a job well done. Acknowledge those victories again in monthly, quarterly, and yearly roundups with colleagues and volunteers. Celebrating wins will build your own confidence and increase team morale.
  9. Make time for team-building activities with your volunteers. Just like your staff, it is important to give these supporters an opportunity to get in sync with one another and form deeper bonds. Try working breakout sessions into your meetings or assign responsibilities to teams of two or three. These group activities can strengthen connections between volunteers and reinforce their affiliation to your organization.
  10. Regularly ask yourself, “Is this the right time to take this action?” Being as attentive to when we act as we are to how we act can have a significant impact on results.

Fundraising is meaningful, important work – but it is also stressful. Giving attention to the timing of your efforts will help you reduce that stress, prioritize your tasks, and make you more productive.