Efficiency. It’s something we hear thrown around pretty much everywhere nowadays – from small conversations with coworkers to keynote speeches by industry gurus. Obviously, it’s important – I mean, we all love the idea of being able to somehow get 35% more work done in a day, or trim down to a 4-Hour Work Week – but too often the “idea” of being efficient remains exactly that: an idea. So let’s forget about the theories and ideas, and get right into the thick of it. Here’s eight practical ways that you can make your nonprofit’s development department more efficient.
Manage Your Time
This seems obvious. Of course, you want to manage your time well. That’s the cornerstone of efficiency, isn’t it? But that’s exactly the point – it’s so important and seemingly obvious that many of us take it for granted. If you’re not using a tool to track your time and schedule, you really should give it a shot.
Toggl is a great example – it’s a free, online time tracking tool that lets you set up different projects, assign people to them, and they can easily sign in and out of their assignments. You don’t even need to be connected to the Internet to use it – track your offline hours, and they’ll sync back up once you’re reconnected. You can also set billable rates for hours worked, and the app has full reporting capabilities – which can really help you manage your payroll.
Block Out Distractions
The Internet is a truly wonderful place – and it’s sometimes too easy to get caught up in it, and forget about the tasks at hand. With the massive culture shift our world is experiencing as the modern Internet turns 20-years-old this year, it’s not too uncommon to find ourselves becoming more and more prone to the ADD-like symptoms that stem out of having so much information at our fingertips.
The cure? Stop letting yourself get distracted – and cut it right off at the source. It’s not as simple as unplugging your modem anymore – we need the Internet to get a lot of our work done – but there are still some great tools out there to help keep you distraction-free. Try installing some productivity plugins in your browser. Strict Workflow and StayFocused come to mind as a pair of really good ones for Chrome users (Leechblock is a good one for you Firefox fans).
They let you create a list of websites that you know will distract you, and then you can set specific times of the workday that those sites are blocked – you won’t be able to access them. It’s like having parental controls on your brain – and it’s amazing how effective it can be at keeping you on task.
I mentioned the idea of a 4-hour work week at the beginning of this article – those of you familiar with Tim Ferriss’ book will know that it’s a fairly controversial idea that he’s pushing, but he does mention one fact that is absolutely undeniably important: you need to prioritize your tasks. Setting 1-2 attainable goals every day can help to keep you on task and productive without overstressing or losing your sanity. Don’t look at that upcoming fundraiser as one massive goal – instead, figure out the 15 things you need to do to get it done, and give yourself a week or two to do it. One or two items a day – that’s it, and you’ll be amazed at how much more you’re able to get done when you try out this strategy.
Use A CRM
If you’re still trying to manage your constituents with basic spreadsheets, you’re wasting a lot of time. And that’s not okay, because your time is precious, and every moment you spend fighting with your technology or painstakingly entering data manually is a moment that you could be devoting to furthering your efforts to help your cause.
From automating reminder emails for events or thank-you messages to donors to automatically processing online payments and recording them in the system, it’s easy to believe that you can regain a lot of your time by using the right technology. Implementing a Constituent Relationship Management system is a worthy investment, and it may be a lot more affordable than you think.
File Sharing/Project Management
If you’re still editing documents offline and emailing a zillion different versions within your department, you’re operating in the Stone Age. Plain and simple. There are plenty of free and paid resources out there that let you easily share files between users – like DropBox – and services like Google Drive let multiple users edit documents simultaneously, in real time.
And then there’s project management tools like Basecamp, which offers you all of the tools you need to plan and execute projects and events of all sizes. Using these sorts of phenomenal tools can really improve the speed and accuracy of communication between team members, and good communication is the key to productivity.
I want to be careful here – because I want to be clear about what I’m not saying: that small donors don’t matter. They do, and they’re the backbone of any nonprofit, so you need to pay attention to them and thank them and continue to encourage them to stay involved.
But what I am saying is that you need to be careful that you don’t spend such a disproportionate amount of time focused on smaller donors that you end up neglecting your major gift contributors. I already mentioned above that being able to automatically send thank-yous to your small donors can be a huge way to save time – and that’s time that you can spend working on bringing in large gifts to your nonprofit.
If you’re not sure where to start your search for major gifts, that’s okay. It can feel like a daunting task. But acquiring large gifts is not all about luck – there are some incredible services out there that can help you.
Organizations like WealthEngine and DonorSearch – two of the best prospect research and insight companies in the industry – help nonprofits to identify, locate and acquire new donors based on high-quality data.
They really take a lot of the time and guesswork out of the donor cultivation process, so that your nonprofit can take advantage.
Schedule Social Media Posts Ahead Of Time
I’m a big fan of social media, and you should be too – after all, they’re basically a bunch of largely-free platforms that you can use to market and grow your organization and interact with your donors and volunteers. But social media can be a huge time-sink, and it’s difficult to do it right. I’m never a fan of overly automating social messages – but prescheduling posts with services like HootSuite, or even just using the built-in tools in Facebook, can really help you manage your time. When you have a few hours to put into your social media efforts, plan out your week of posts, and get some of them ready to go ahead of time. That way, you can spend the rest of your time on social interacting with people – which is the real way to win on most platforms.
If you don't want to preschedule posts, it's still more efficient to post to multiple networks from one platform. Salsa Labs' online fundraising tool actually allows social posting from inside their portal.
Leverage Your Volunteers
Your volunteers are there to help your cause – so why not let them help you with administrative tasks as well? Sure, there are some things that they might not be able to do – but there are plenty of tasks that soak up your time that aren’t so much difficult as they are time-consuming. If you can get a few of your volunteers to help you take care of some basic data entry or drafting messages to send to event attendees, why not take advantage of that opportunity? Sometimes, all you need to do is ask for a little help – so give it a shot.