Reflections of a busy fundraiser
— Written by Nicole Lovelock, Head of Communications
A day in the life
7am: wake up, read text from team with a screenshot from a rogue Board member commenting on a touchy subject on social media. Good morning world!
7:10am – 8am: texting with CEO while getting ready for work
8am – 9am: drop kids off at childcare and before care, commute to work, texting comms team with agreed response; proofread an EDM that is going out at 10am; try to read a global fundraising report sent to you by the Major Donor manager
9am: turn on computer. Great, only 38 emails since logging off last night.
9:30am: phone call from colleague who works in a satellite office wanting to give “feedback” on your latest appeal and what you left out.
10am: meeting with lead gen provider, conversion rates are down, suggests we need to build a new campaign: any ideas?
10:15am: data team and digital team got wires crossed and Wave 2 email just got sent in duplicate; wonder if this means response rate will go up?
12pm: new CFO wants to know why your regular giving program costs so much; asks for detailed 5 year analysis by tomorrow morning
1pm: Why do I now have 45 unread emails?? Grrrrr
1:30pm: meeting with web and digital team to figure out why Google Analytics is telling us different donation figures to our email results
2:45pm: that’s right. I need to eat lunch. Go in search of immediate sugar and carbs.
3:30pm: NOOOOOO – email from CEO’s office, Board papers are due by end of the week.
4:30pm: edits have come back from stakeholders on the latest DM appeal – it is a sea of red. Stress eat five chocolate digestives.
5pm: aaaargggh how is it 5pm?! Dash to pick up small people
5pm – 8pm: family time
8pm – 10pm: I’ll just deal with my inbox so tomorrow is a little less mental …
So many questions, so little time. And if that heaving inbox, filled with spot fires, red flags and issues galore seems familiar – you’re not alone.
There is something missing from our working fundraiser lives in 2022: the time for reflection. And it got me to thinking: why has time for deep and critical thinking been thrown to the bottom of the pile?
How to manage burnout is an ongoing challenge in our sector: it’s the perfect storm of values-driven people over-servicing their resource-poor organisations. But it seems that the never-ending push for innovation, to find the next ‘new thing in fundraising’, appeasing risk-averse Boards, managing Covid-wearing internal teams and keeping donors happy and giving has pushed many of us to the brink.
We are a sector of givers; but we are giving too much to our jobs – not just at critical campaign times, but ALL the time.
But this is not just an article on burnout. It is a call for an end to noise, distraction, shallow work and busyness. It is a request for these things to be replaced by reflection, analysis, and deep thinking. Our donors demand that we do better; our colleagues are crying out for things to change.
Everything is urgent. Emails – must be answered straightaway. Slack or Teams – must keep up with those hundreds of threads. Texts – must respond. Voicemail – forget about it! That is where messages go to die. There is simply not enough time to keep up with the volume and veracity of modern-day communications.
Excuse me while I put on my bonnet and reach for my parasol; it’s not that I’m an old-fashioned gal (in fact I almost just scrape in as an early Millennial thanks) but I am suggesting that we all slow down a little. Stop and breathe. Take care of ourselves and put on the oxygen mask first. And I think if we collectively do that – better fundraising decisions (and revenue) will follow.
Think of what happens when we move too fast. We stumble, fall, crash. Reports with incredible statistics get scanned, instead of being turned into meaningful letters. Advice is given on the fly, without consultation, and teams miss opportunities to work together. Contracts miss detail – which can have disastrous consequences. Results emails go unread, their insights and gems relegated to the depths of a crowded inbox. We feel guilty for not giving these important things enough time and consideration; we constantly fear missing something we should have caught before it became an issue; and the cycle continues.
There are some systemic, structural issues that need to be addressed by the sector and by those who lead it. Pressure downwards to keep admin and fundraising costs unrealistically low, while reaching stretch targets is one; lack of investment into technology and systems that will create time for people to spend their time doing more meaningful work; onerous monthly and quarterly KPI reporting that tells no story but to fill some numbers on a page; and understaffing and under-resourcing are just a handful that come to mind.
But there are also micro changes we can all adopt ourselves and positively influence the culture and habits of our teams. I spoke to former NFP executive and now life coach Melinda Warnecke from Liminal Mindset Coaching about her top tricks to build reflection time into our lives.
“We need to drop the notion that reflection time is wasted time,” explains Melinda. “We’re so used to doing things constantly, but a sense of movement isn’t the same as a sense of purpose. It’s a false narrative we’re telling ourselves.”
“I used to be the frantic fundraiser, going to meetings without the time to prep because I managed large teams who, to effectively be high performers, needed my help and attention; I was reaching targets but had absolutely nothing left for myself or my family at the end of it. I thought: there has to be a better way.”
“Reflection time is where you sit with a problem or a challenge and you allow yourself the time and space to think about how you might solve it, by spending time listening to your instincts and thoughts. It’s such a rewarding practice and there’s a reason why so many top leaders actively protect time in their insanely busy weeks to reflect.”
Melinda’s top 3 tips for reflection
We need to drop the notion that reflection time is wasted time. We are conditioned to respond to a world of instant gratification that we are close to losing this incredible gift of reflection. Telling ourselves that we don’t have the time to put ourselves first is one of the quickest ways to burn out and overwhelm. Isn’t it interesting that every single human being on this planet has the same amount of time … it is the only thing that is truly equal in our world right now.
Reflection time is really when you give yourself permission to say you are worth it, you are worth the time and effort to consider how you show up in the world – at work and at home. True reflection time is when you support yourself by putting the oxygen mask on YOU first thing, looking after YOU before you end up on your CEO’s agenda, your team members’ agenda, even your family’s agenda.
Top 3 Tips for Reflection
1. Notice what you are thinking, really notice your thought patterns and choose to think thoughts that progress you forward rather than keep you stuck. Our thoughts become our words, our words become our behaviours and our behaviours dictate our outcome….watch your thoughts!
2. You must reenergise and recharge your mind, body and emotions DAILY. It sounds cliché however it’s factual – if your mental mind, physical body and emotional body is tired…then your work day and focus will be divested, distorted and dangerous. The best way to reenergise and recharge is to follow these simple steps:
- Recharge your body by moving it! Your body is like a car battery, it needs to be used in order to stay fully charged.
- Recharge your emotions by calming your nervous system. This can be done effectively listen to relaxing music, write in a gratitude journal or playing a musical instrument.
- Recharge your mind by starting the day filling it with positive mindset content via either reading or meditation.
3. Know that spending time with your own thoughts is like putting the oxygen mask on yourself first – you are actually important enough to be on your own agenda first, before other people put you on their agenda!
Nicole Lovelock is Head of Communications at Marlin Communications.