Fundraising in the Small Development Shop: Accomplish More and Stress Less

To-do list with "SO MANY THINGS" written in red capital letters

If you work in a development department with very few staff (or if you’re the only staff), sometimes it might seem as though your daily to-do list has no end in sight, or that you never have enough resources to handle the weight of your fundraising duties.

But lo, there may be some ways for you to lighten your load! Susan Gabriel of Cause Effective stopped by Foundation Center New York on March 12 to present "Don’t Go It Alone: Effective Fundraising Strategies for the Small/One-Person Shop", a workshop specifically for small development shops. Susan was joined by Jennifer Beirne, development director at the Brooklyn Historical Society, and Kerry Watterson, development director at the Kaplan Educational Foundation. The three presenters shared their experience, advice, and insights on everything that goes into a smoothly-functioning development department. Here are a few key tips from their discussion.

Prioritize your workload

You are one person operating with limited resources. Your time will be better spent, and your organization better served, if you can do a handful of important tasks well, rather than fruitlessly attempting to juggle a thousand things at once. If your to-do list is too long, much of what you’re trying to do may end up falling through the cracks.

Because of this, it’s essential to prioritize the array of items on your plate. Figure out the most essential duties that can only be done by you and you alone. Personalized thank you notes for major donors? Meetings with big prospects? Push those to the top of your to-do list.

Also, take stock of some of the tasks that could potentially fall through the cracks, so that you’ll at least be aware and in control of what doesn’t get done. For many other items that you don’t have time for, but are nonetheless important, this next option will be crucial.

Delegate tasks to staff and partners

To be more effective, it helps to engage more people to work by your side. Find your best potential partners within and outside of your organization, whether it’s program staff, board members, volunteers, or some of your most loyal donors.

Your board should have a fundraising committee, and it’s good to find your strongest ally amongst the board to lead the committee. Program staff can be enlisted to identify more potential supporters amongst clients, vendors, families, etc. They can also be asked to contribute stories from their daily work that can greatly enhance your fundraising communications and help you to make a more compelling case to prospects. Existing donors can be recruited to make fundraising asks on your behalf.

Simplify!

Your workload needs to be kept at scale with the number of staff and partners you have available. What can be eliminated? Are there projects that the development team has always done but that don’t yield enough results to be worth continuing? Have you been chasing prospects who are unlikely to give? Are there other parts of your day-to-day work that can be streamlined through technology? The less time you spend on the extraneous stuff, the more time you’ll have for devoting enough attention to your most important projects.

Get more advice

Check out these resources for more tips and insights on managing your fundraising workload:

For more in-depth help with fundraising in small development shops, Cause Effective offers tons of expertise on this topic, both one-on-one and in workshops. See also this Knowledge Base Article for more tips and resources on finding and hiring consultants.

For do-it-yourselfers, visit any Foundation Center library or Funding Information Network partner for an extensive selection of fundraising books for small, medium-sized, and large nonprofits alike. 

Now it's your turn to share! What time management tricks and techniques have you found useful? Tell us in the Comments area.

-- Tracy Kaufman
Program Associate
Foundation Center New York