Urgent vs. Important – How to Organize Your Fundraising Work

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Where to start?

This is a question I hear often when it comes to major gifts. Even if you know the process, the number of tasks involved with major gifts fundraising – from donor research to strategy to scheduling a meeting and many others – it can be an overwhelming list.

To make matters worse, major gifts is one of the few fundraising strategies without deadlines.

Your absolute deadline for raising $75,000 in major gifts might be the end date of your fiscal year. But there are no obvious sub-deadlines to guide and structure your work. You must set and meet those yourself.

And you must do so without having full control over what gets done when. Because let’s face it, donors—not development officers—are often the ones driving the timeline!

Allow me to introduce the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. Developed by the former U.S. president himself, it’s a very useful time management tool.

And it can help you prioritize between “urgent” and “important” work—the two main categories into which major gifts tasks fall.

My message today: Focus on the IMPORTANT.

What are some examples of IMPORTANT tasks in major gift fundraising?

They are often large and more difficult, but their impact is major. Think about:

  • Creating cultivation plans for your top donors and following them.
  • Creating stewardship plans for your top donors and following them
  • Investing time to create your prospect list, to ensure you’re targeting the right people.
  • Holding strategy sessions to discuss prospects and the best ways to engage them.

What tasks are, or feel, URGENT?

  • Responding to an email from your ED who has asked, “Where are we with major gifts?”
  • Preparing a major gifts status report for your board meeting next week.
  • A phone call from your event committee chair asking about napkin colors for the gala

Do you notice some themes here? Important major gifts tasks are donor-centered – and they usually take some time and some thought. They also involve DOING the work of building relationships, not talking about doing it.

Important tasks can move donor relationships forward. And in time, bring money into your organization. But it’s not immediate. Which may mean we focus more on urgent tasks.

Urgent tasks often demand immediate attention – putting you in reactive mode rather than proactive. The danger lies in… if you’re always doing urgent tasks, you’re not able to accomplish important tasks.

You can read more about how to prioritize and balance here: Urgent Vs. Important: The Simplest Way to Stay Productive and Do the Right Work.

What advice do you have for prioritizing your work? Do you use tools to help you stay focused and productive? Please share your thoughts or experience in the Comments box below!

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