Not long ago, I did some board training with a small health foundation. After one of our sessions, the executive director pulled me aside and told me a story that had him pulling his hair out. Just before Christmas, a donor had called and offered a gift of securities. The gift turned out to be worth just over $5,000-by far this charity’s biggest gift of 2011. It energized everyone. Hope soared that they were on their way to bigger and better successes in 2012.

Then in early April that same donor called the executive director. The reason for the call? The donor hadn’t received his tax receipt. He was all ready to submit his 2011 income tax return. The only thing missing was the receipt for his donation.

When the executive director asked some questions, he was shocked to learn that the donor’s gift hadn’t been acknowledged at all. No receipt. No thank-you note. No call from anyone connected with the foundation. Nothing!

Too busy for stewardship

What happened?

It turns out that the fundraising staffer responsible for this donor’s stewardship had been too busy to do it. I know this sounds crazy-but it happened just the way I’ve described it.

I’m fortunate enough to travel across the country, and I talk to all types of fundraisers every single day. From big and small charities (and everything in-between). From every region of Canada. From every sector you could imagine. Even though many parts of our jobs can be very different, there’s one thing that we all seem to have in common no matter where we work.

We’re too busy for our own good!

And no wonder we’re so busy. Most of us are asked to do more with less this year than we were last. We’re bombarded with 4,000 messages a day-not to mention ringing phones and overflowing email inboxes. Our brains process an average of 60,000 thoughts a day (that’s just over one thought per second during our waking hours!) We’re simply trying to do more than our poor brains can manage.

Noise isn’t money

What happens when we get too busy? We confuse the urgent (where the noise is) with the important (where the money is). We plow through our to-do lists knowing that we won’t make it to the bottom of them. We rely on adrenalin to push the paper (or emails or spreadsheets) up the endless mountainside.

When we rely on nothing but hard work to do our jobs, we forget to work smart. There’s an old adage that says we should “work smarter, not harder.” And let’s face it: most of us can’t work any harder than we’re working now.

This month’s ridiculously simple tip

  • Give yourself 45 minutes every week to sit and think about your job. Make a date with yourself. Consider your meeting with yourself to be just as important as a donor visit or a session with your boss.
  • Find someplace where you won’t get distracted (I like busy coffee places that aren’t frequented by my fundraising pals).
  • Schedule your meeting with yourself at a time of day when your brain is working well (for me, that’s somewhere between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m.).
  • Sit with an empty piece of paper or a blank computer screen and just jot down ideas, make a list of important (not urgent) tasks, and look three months, six months or a year down the road. Cook up a new idea. Figure out how to dismantle a silo in your shop. Think about how you could work on building donor loyalty.

I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. When I get too busy and don’t make time for myself, I make mistakes. I forget important tasks. I gravitate to the little stuff because it feels more manageable. But I’ve learned to catch myself early in this process.