Matt Wilburn, Senior Counselor with Development Systems International says, “If you take care of fundraising first the rest of your nonprofit program falls into place.” Here’s Matt Wilburn’s article called: Donor Freedom is Director Freedom.
Nonprofit Executive Directors will tell you, countless hats are worn in the demands of a day. Whether it’s because an organization is understaffed or simply underfunded, Executive Directors end up catching their responsibilities and unexpected responsibilities from other jobs. Schedules can become erratic and reactionary. In fact, a reactionary schedule care ruin a good Executive Director. E. D.’s can’t focus primarily on their job. It’s the classic tail wagging the dog. Pulling up your calendar is like pulling up a picture of a dumpster fire. The important falls to the tyranny of the urgent. Doing much replaces doing well. Nonprofits are suffocating their organization by choking their leader’s management. Yet, every Executive Director makes choices that influence their outcomes. As Nitin Nohria, Dean of Harvard Business School wrote, “You can’t let management be a reactive process”.
CHOOSING A BETTER WAY
CEO’s/Executive Directors have to be ruthless about realigning task that aren’t important and taking back their schedules. President Eisenhower used a matrix to help him make the best choices like the one represented below. This matrix is available with a simple search online. It helps a person put the right things in the right place at the right time. There are four categories on a grid moving from “Do first” to “Don’t do”. Items that fall into category 1 (Do first) are urgent and important. Category 2 is “schedule”, these are items that are less urgent but important. Category 3 is “Delegate”, which means items are urgent but less important. As mentioned above the last category is “Don’t do”, these items are neither urgent nor important.
Using the matrix can be revealing to how an Executive Director really spends their time and what are the real priorities. Compiling a matrix can tell you who controls your schedule and can uncover unseen dysfunction. Try it. Write out the 4 categories and think of the things you “need to do”. If we are honest with ourselves, the “Do first” category tends to contain things to get done today or this week (urgent). There will be some things in category 1 that have no place being there. Yet, time tends to be the biggest tyrant. Likewise, category 2 mostly contains things to be done in the next couple of weeks. Category 3 has items for next month. Lastly, category 4 contains long term items that usually gets put off. Here in lies the problem. A poor Executive Director workflow can be a poison chalice that impedes a nonprofit or it can be a workflow that builds, advances and expands its mission. Living daily in a schedule built solely on time will wreck an E.D.’s management. It should be built around principles and not time or urgency.
Moving from urgent sensitive schedules to principled ones is not as foreign as you may initially think. Principles matter, take for an example, spending 2 hours next week getting ready for another mindless meeting would probably not be as productive as 2 hours spent investing in staff. Meetings can be time thieves and investing is a principle belief with an actual return on investment. So, the question becomes, what are my principles as an Executive Director? Investing in staff and volunteers should be a high job responsibility but usually finds its way to category 4, which means it never gets done. Which begs another question, what else in category four needs to be in category one? Put it another way, what are the common category 4 items that should be category 1? Some that come to mind other than staff development could be, long-term planning, continuing education, resource development or expansion of services. Highly important principles get relegated because they fall to category 4 due to time. How does an E.D. correct and set aright all 4 categories for job performance? If you could change one item on your matrix, what would be best? The answer commonly lies sadly in category 4, one you never anticipate, fundraising. I suggest the most egregious item to leave in category four are the very people who make it possible for you to serve in a nonprofit. NO, I DON’T MEAN YOUR BOARD! They are not items at all, they are your donors! It sounds crazy that fundraising can fix all 4 categories.
Think about it, without their giving there would be no jobs, no organization, no services and worst of all no success. Without their gifts, you don’t exist. That alone should move donors to category 1. These people are your lifeline and lifeboat. Donors should be in category 1 and I will argue they should be item number 1 in category 1. Putting donors at the top makes them more important than deadlines and meetings. You already believe this, I can prove it to you. Let’s say you’re are finishing a report for a weekly staff meeting this afternoon and a donor calls and says they have a check for your organization but I’m about to leave town and it’s too big to mail. If you can come by the bank now, we can get it deposited before I leave. Do you finish the report or go to the bank?
What would happen if donors became your priority, daily? How would it effect you schedule? More importantly, how would it impact the organization? Think of the success if you had the funding to change lives!
Making donors the organizations most urgent, most important part of your schedule would impact every category and rearrange your matrix for you. Regular meetings, face to face with donors giving their best gift to your nonprofit would do more than a month of aimless meetings or reports. Imagine having the money to hire highly qualified staff or expanding services and resources? Great donors could build the infrastructure to offer a level of care unmatched by anybody else in your community. More people could be impacted by your organization. Most of all, an Executive Director would have the time to do their job well. They could employ the help necessary to accomplish goals. Therefore, it is my position that putting donors first would rearrange your entire matrix and fix those common nonprofit dilemmas. A donor based matrix could ensure longevity, impact and organizational health in one change.
Each one of us is given a limited amount of time to impact our world. I don’t think it is unreasonable to ask Executive Directors to get the most out of their schedule. We must at some point look in the mirror and ask, “Am I getting the most out of my day to help the most people, including my donors?” Even better, can you look at your board of directors with a clean conscience and say, “My priorities are in place and I am getting the most I can from donors to feed our organization the funds to accomplish our goals.”
Moving my donors to category 1 breathed time and oxygen back into my organization and me schedule. My matrix ordered itself aright. I will never go back. Serve your donors and let them serve those we help.
Matt Wilburn Says, “Putting Donors First Takes Care of Everything” was written by Matt Wilburn who has lived and served in ministries and nonprofits in several states for 20 years. Early career focused on local support networks and local churches. He spent successful time with Goodwill Industries of Arkansas as a Career Counselor and Retention Specialist, helping good people get connected with great jobs. Working with government agencies and local businesses. Providing job training and business relations. Most recently Matt Wilburn has served as Chief Executive Officer of Hope Family Counseling services. There he raised significant funds to allow new growth and organizational development. Matt Wilburn grew up in Mississippi and has two children and has been married to his beautiful wife for 16 years. His driving desire is to see effective nonprofits grow and serve more than they thought possible. He truly believes as John Wesley, “The world is my parish”.