Planning and Productivity

Not inspired. Perhaps I just need another cup of coffee. Or—because I’m in New York—to get over my jet lag, though I don’t feel lagged at all.  Or—because I live in LA—I should just forget this all and get out into the already bustling city.  But no, really it is too early. And maybe that’s it—perhaps I just need more sleep. I could probably come up with pages of excuses as to why I’m not doing this or that—and in doing so feel somewhat productively.  Certainly more productive than simply not doing whatever it is I need to do.  But not, of course, really productive.

It’s hard, sometimes, to actually get things done.  It’s really hard to get done the things you need to get done.  And, for many fundraising professionals (as well as others, but hey—this is a blog about fundraising), it’s mostly hard to actually know what those things are that you should/must/have to get done.

I talk a lot about planning.  Not necessarily big picture—strategic—planning.  That, I hasten to add, must be done.  You have to know where you intend to end up before any plan makes sense.  BUT, and it is an important but, it is the day-to-day plan that counts.

Not long ago, I got a call from the development director of an organization who had just gone through a process of developing a development plan with a consultant.  “What a waste of time and money,” she told me.  For months—months—there were meetings and discussions and then, finally, the consultant came back with a development “plan.”  And this plan said that they needed to have an annual giving program, might look for some major individual donors, should consider getting corporate funding, and needed to beef up the grants program that, until that time, had been the mainstay of their fundraising efforts.

All I could think of as I read the “plan” she emailed me was (unkindly):  “They paid money for this?”

What they needed—what we worked on for the next 6 weeks—was an implementation plan which clearly laid out what needed to be done, by whom, by what time.

We started with a very basic calendar, putting in the things we knew needed to be done.  For example, there was the annual event that happened in May.  So in May we wrote “Annual Event”—then we backtracked and put in everything that needed to happen in order for that event to be successful.  What she had to do or manage was in blue; what she needed to delegate to someone else was in green.  We would—she would—get more specific later on.

We then added the things she would like to do that we felt, given the capacity of the organization, would be most effective.  By this time, the calendar was looking pretty blue.  So our next step was to sit down with the Executive Director and Board Chair (this organization doesn’t have a development committee) and see what they felt was missing, and what resources would be needed to accomplish those things.

Meanwhile, the development director began working on those things that needed to be done that month.  Because I am a nag, I insisted that at least weekly she document what she had been doing, what the next steps would be, and when those next steps had to happen.  I also instructed her to note what hadn’t happened that was supposed to have happened, and—to the best of her ability—honestly jot down why.

To her surprise, rather than making things harder, knowing her deadlines and documenting made it all easier.  It’s kind of like this blog.

Knowing it is Thursday, means I need to write something.  The deadline, rather than being threatening, gives me a push and even though I’m not always inspired when I start, I get more interested as I get moving.  And at the end, I feel that I have been productive—and that actually helps me to work more.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to be more productive as they increase their fundraising capacity, build stronger boards and empower staff.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the monthly newsletter.