Keeping Your Eye on the Ball

You’re small, under-resourced. You’ve got too much to do, and too few hands with which to do it. Stress has become a way of life, relaxation a stranger. And if one more board member, or your CEO, shows you what Harvard or Stanford, or some national organization that has a gazillion dollars to spend on administration has just brought in, you are going to scream.

Trying to manage a small advancement office is like trying to keep your house clean when you have toddlers and two very large and hairy dogs. Most days, nothing goes as planned and, after a while, it is tempting not to bother to plan at all. At my last job, I planned to meet with at least 3 prospects a week. That didn’t seem like so many. Surely I could fit that into my calendar.

I could have. If I had had three prospects to call on. But I didn’t. So I figured that what I really needed was a database. Oh, we had one. But it was a mess, and it was old technology and very expensive to maintain. Besides, no one in the office really knew how to manage it.

So I began looking for a database that better suited our needs. Along the way, I realized that our gift acceptance and receipting policies were virtually non-existent. They needed to be updated. And oh, I had to go to cabinet meetings, board meetings, staff meetings, meetings with city and state officials and, it seemed, every other meeting held at my organization.

Are you seeing a pattern here? Are you shaking your head because you see the quagmire I’m falling into, or are you shaking your head because you are right there with me?

It is so easy to lose sight of what should be if not the than a primary purpose of your job: Raising funds for your organization. So how do you keep your eye on the ball and ensure that fundraising doesn’t constantly get pushed to the back burner?

Short of quitting, which is sometimes the only option, what can you do?

First and foremost, manage expectations—yours and everyone else’s. Assess your situation, honestly. Given your time, your resources, your prospect pool, what is reasonable to demand of yourself (and, should you be so lucky, the rest of your staff!). Then build some manageable metrics.

Next time, we’ll talk about these metrics in detail. Meanwhile, tell us how you keep your eye on the ball.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grant writing class is available here