Too many conflicting priorities! What to do first?

Too many conflicting priorities! What to do first?

A reader recently asked me, what are the first things that need to be done in the first 90 days of a fundraising position?

I LOVE this question!

The first three months are crucial in a new job. You will be under intense scrutiny to perform, especially if you have a boss who doesn’t understand development. Square your shoulders, take a deep breath, and learn to manage expectations.

First of all, Get Confident!
Remember your skills stories. You are talented! You are a fast learner! You can do this. You can learn as quickly as you can by tapping into organizational memory, and development mentors. Get an early win. Under-promise and over-deliver. Talk with your boss about each aspect of your job, priorities, and resources you’ll need. Get a team together of volunteers, interns, and, if possible, other development professionals.

Then, Get Organized!
You’ve got the job! Now there’s work to do! A lot of times there is so much to do, it’s hard to know where to begin. A book called Getting Things Done by David Allen1 is a resource I would recommend to start clearing the mental and physical clutter.

Tired of coming to the end of the day and feeling like you didn’t accomplish anything?

Here’s how to ensure you manage your day as it progresses.
Write the answers to these questions each morning before you begin your work.

1. Where will I concentrate on today?
2. What MUST I do today?
3. How can I make this easier for myself?
4. What needs to come first?
5. What next?
6. What events might prevent me from doing this?
7. How can I best anticipate these?
8. What else?

You can also make a diagram, like the one shown below.


What is urgent and important? What is important but not urgent? Unimportant and urgent? Not urgent and not important? Separate out your tasks.

1. Write down all of the things you have to do. Everything. Even non-work related things. Just get it all out on paper.

2. Separate out personal and work-related to-dos into two separate lists.

3. Separate out specific actions and projects (Requiring 3 or more specific actions).

4. Using the principle of the assembly line, divide your work so it can all be accomplished with the least amount of distraction and highest efficiency.

5. Break up your day into six mini-days.

  • 8-10am-Write marketing copy for appeal letters, website, or other PR tools.
  • 10-12pm-Make phone-calls to donors
  • 12-2pm-Lunch and meet with colleagues/mentors
  • 2-4pm-Research grants
  • 4-5pm-Answer emails

What do you need?

Figure out what you need to be successful. This is the beginning of your development plan. Do you need a second person to help you? Do you need an events consultant? Do you need an approved marketing budget? Do you need more priorities set from your boss? Do you need a higher ratio of compliments to criticisms? Do you need your boss to meet with you weekly? Monthly? What’s your communication style? Do you prefer email? Telephone? In-person?

Figure out what motivates you the best. Is it compensation? Compliments? Little Thank You notes from your boss? Find out a way to communicate this in one of your first meetings.

5 Key Conversations to have with your boss
You need to have several conversations with your boss.

  1. Have a conversation about how your boss wants you to communicate . Do they prefer email? Phone? What’s YOUR communication style? How can you sync up with your boss? Where are the potential disconnects? What can the two of you agree to do to head off communication issues?
  2. Have a conversation where you ask what the situation is this week. What is the highest priority, what is second, and so on.
  3. Have a conversation about what your boss’s expectations are for fundraising.
  4. Have a conversation where you explain to your boss what you need, what resources you require. You’ll probably want to explain your budget for marketing, events, and talk about why you need more staff and specifically what you need them to do.
  5. Have a conversation about how you can advance in the organization. You can make more money, sure, but what else? Could you get a change in title? Who will provide mentoring for you? Would you like to create organizational procedures around specific tasks? Would you like to streamline the identification and cultivation process for donors?

Find the answers to these questions:

  1. Who was in the fundraising position before? How many people have been in the position in the last five years? If you didn’t already ask this in the interview, it’s good to find this out.
  2. Look at the 990 forms and old budgets. How has the development department performed in the past? And how do your coworkers and boss feel it performed?
  3. How did goals get set? Were these goals realistic? What were the benchmarks?
  4. What happened when goals were not met?
  5. Who has tried to change the organization? Were they successful?
  6. What is the focus and vision of the organization?
  7. Who is trustworthy in your organization?
  8. Who can actually do their job? Who is burned out? Who is overwhelmed?
  9. Who has influence with the Executive Director and board? What can you learn from them?
  10. Where can you get some early wins? (Appeals? Events? Marketing?)
  11. What needs to go into the development plan?
  12. What are some ways to ensure communication keeps happening within your organization?

If you see something being done inefficiently, ask what may appear to be “dumb” questions. Why is this done this way? What’s another way to do this?

Motivating others is your first step to being a true development professional. Even if you don’t personally supervise anyone, you can play a role in motivating the board, and motivating volunteers and interns, as well as motivating people to give through speaking engagements.

Fundraising is everybody’s responsibility. But don’t frame it this way. When you talk with staff, instead of pointing your finger and demanding their help, you can frame it as, “Your programs are incredible, and I’d love to highlight them, will you help me?” Don’t frame it as obligation, but as highlighting their hard work and showing off their achievements.

The more people you have giving you ideas, supporting you, understanding what you do, and helping out, the better you will feel.