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If you can’t answer this question, quit.

on Jan 12, 2016

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There’s one question a fundraiser needs to be able to answer with unshakeable confidence:

What’s next?

Not in the broad “what are your goals for the year” sense. I mean in the literal, “what is the next task you’ll take on, because nothing else is as important right now” sense.

At War Child, our five year strategic plan has provided the broad strokes. For everyone on our team, we know the progress has come because of our consistent disassembly of those big multi-year goals into manageable projects and tasks. We couldn’t execute everything at once. Risk mitigation, investment ability, and staff capacity come to mind as important considerations along the way (so far).

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” – Unknown

Eliyahu Goldratt published a management theory called the theory of constraints, which basically says that the progress to your goal can be measured by one constraint. Here’s one of his examples:

You’re hiking with a boy scout troop. To get to the camp site before sundown, they need to walk about 3 km/h. Most of them are strolling between 3 and 5 km/h, but one scout named Herbie is walking 2 km/h and falling behind.

So that you don’t lose Herbie, so you move him to the front of the pack. Now, everyone is stuck moving at 2 km/h, and you’re behind schedule. Now that you’ve isolated Herbie’s speed as the main issue, speeding him up will speed up the entire group. Unload his backpack, tighten his boots, giving him a snack and he’ll be moving at 3.5 km/h.

This example is a simplification of course, because in actuality it’s never so simple. A change to one part of a system will influence another area, revealing one new constraint after another. The point is to keep looking for, isolating, and improving with a manageable and systematic approach.

Here’s how you can apply this to challenges at your charity:

On a scale of 1-5, score how each tool and process are performing.

1 = Not working/nonexistent
2 = Meets few needs, is inconsistent.
3 = Meets current needs
4 = Meets current needs, ability to do more with help
5 = Meets current needs with ability to do more

 Here’s a hypothetical to consider. You might have more rows depending on how big or small your shop is:

Tool Process Strategy Team
Donor Database 2 4 3 2.5
Online Giving 3.5 4 3 3
Gift Acknowledgments 2 2.5 3 3
Email Marketing 3 3 2.5 2.5

One clear constraint we can see here is your donor database. Acknowledgements are also a 2, but its likely that these are being generated or at least tracked through a function of your database. If it were up to me, I’d tackle the donor database first.

Now let’s say you take on the challenge of migrating your data into a new tool. The processes you had for the database are now out of date. And your team’s ability to use the tool? Back to square one. Will you need or want a new system for prospect management or campaign reporting now?

This never ends, nor should it. Keep sharpening your ability to identify constraints in your system and you’ll be well on your way to completing those big projects, making way for more amazing work from your charity.

Was this helpful? Is there something you’d add? Tell me in the comments below, connect with me on Linkedin, or tweet me at @brockwarner.
This post was by Brock Warner. Currently in Toronto, Brock works to foster and place value on philanthropy, no matter the size of gift. As a fundraising professional, Brock values the ‘how’ as much as the ‘how much’ and to see our hard work be a catalyst for positive change. Connect with him on Twitter at @BrockWarner or on LinkedIn.

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