Lessons Learned: Operational Priorities – Guest Blogger Chris Cannon

6 04 2011

Chris Cannon is the first in a series of guest bloggers.  Chris is widely recognized as a leader in development operations.

 Special Guest Blogger: Chris Cannon, Author of “An Executive’s Guide to Fundraising Operations”

Exceptional fundraising requires discipline and focus on the “big rocks.” You may have heard the story: a professor stands before her students with a glass jar, some big rocks, some smaller stones, some gravel, and sand and a glass of water. The question posed to the students: “What’s your strategy to getting all of these materials into the jar?” If student starts with the little stuff (the details, if you will) means that water, sand, and gravel keep the big rocks from fitting in the jar. Put simply, the exercise teaches students that one must start with the big rocks in order to fit everything into the jar. You can fit the smaller items around the big rocks once you have them in the jar. If it’s not too obvious, the big rocks are your best donors and prospects. The smaller items are details like your fundraising operations.

How can you focus on the big rocks while ensuring that the details are handled well enough? Here are three simple techniques that are expounded upon in my book, An Executive’s Guide to Fundraising Operations:

1)      Disciplined focus on top of pyramid. Simply put, no matter how bad the database, reporting, gift processing and other areas may appear, nothing is as bad as missing your fundraising targets because you lost focus and didn’t engage your best donors. Do whatever you need to do—hire staff, outsource, and retain counsel— to allow the time needed for the big rocks.

2)      Use metrics and don’t let anecdotes get in the way. A $50 gift processing issue is not worth a day of time from the chief fundraising officer. And, it’s equally important that you don’t use a few anecdotes to evaluate operations. Instead, decide on metrics (99.5% accuracy for gift entry, for example) and manage to the metrics, not the anecdotes.

3)      Train and Trust. Your team should make you feel like you can ignore operations. The better they are, the more training they have, and the more you trust them, the more you can reasonably focus on the big rocks.

Concerned about operations affecting your focus on the big rocks? Check out the confidence calculators at www.fundraisingoperations.com. Here you can determine whether an issue really needs your attention.

Special thanks to Chris for his contribution to the Marshall Art of Fundraising.


Email: mjm@bwf.com        

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