Getting Organized

I am not a naturally neat or organized person. In fact, chaotic is probably the best word to use when describing my natural habitat. But I learned early on that chaos was not a synonym for creative as I had hoped but, rather, for bedlam, disorder, pandemonium, and so I learned to control my chaos and create some sort of order so I could actually get work done. I do that by obsessively keeping lists. In my office, I have on a flip chart a list of my clients, the proposals I have out, workshops I have to prepare for, and projects I want to tackle.

Daily, I put tasks in my calendar, and I regularly review notes I’ve taken a meetings to ensure that I’ve done what I need to do.

Despite the ever-present possibility of spiraling out of control, I find that with some planning and forethought, I actually get quite a lot done, and most of it is something I can be proud to have produced. Much to surprise, I rarely miss deadlines—and when I do, they are always only of the self-imposed kind. I don’t, therefore, suffer lightly those who tell me they are “too busy” to get something accomplished, or those who think planning is not worth the time.

Planning is critical. As my hero—Yogi Berra—always said, “You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you are going, because you might not get there.

But where is “there?”

The first question you must always ask is “What am I hoping to accomplish?” What is the outcome you are seeking; the results you want to attain?

In order to get there, wherever your there is, you must be precise. Identifying new prospects isn’t good enough:

        • How many?
        • What types?
        • Who could make what size gift?

You also need to know by when. When must you have this task done? When, then, do you need the draft? To have those conversations? To get the research finished?

And if others are involved—who? And who is the owner of the action.

Without planning you are liable to not achieve what you want to. You might not even know what that is.


Janet Levine works with nonprofit organizations, helping them to increase fundraising capacity, develop more committed boards and generally get more done.   Learn how she can help you and your organization at or email her directly at