Yes, Fanatical Prospecting is a sales book.
And, yes, there is some debate within the non-profit space about whether fundraising shops should try to function like for-profit sales operations. I’m not really interested in that debate—not today anyway. The disciplines are similar enough. And we’re smart people. Smart people are always able to take principles, ideas, and frameworks from other fields and use them to inform their own work.
So that’s what we’re going to do.
There are tons of great tips and tricks to be gleaned from Fanatical Prospecting. I recommend you buy it. This post, however, will take a deeper dive one one topic: Blount’s approach to time management. Success in major gifts has a lot to do with how effectively you use your time.
Why is that?
Well, not all fundraising tasks are created equal. A conversation with a billionaire about his philanthropic priorities is a far more valuable activity than the third round of edits on a direct mail appeal, or a discussion about the dinner menu for your next event.
This is, generally, is why MGOs get paid more than annual giving or events professionals. Their time is leveraged for activities that are of a higher value to the organization.
And this, by the way, is why I’m a fan of MGO roles that are focused on just one thing: major gifts. If you give an MGO a bunch of other tasks to do, it erodes their ability to focus on their most high value work—actions that lead to major gifts.
And what are the actions that lead to major gifts?
- Scheduling visits with donors and prospects (outreach, referrals, follow up, more follow up…make no mistake about it—this stuff takes time!)
- Discussing philanthropy, charitable priorities, your organization’s impact and giving opportunities
- Sending major gift proposals
- Following up on all of the above
- Finalizing gift agreements
- Stewarding appropriately
(Quick caveat: Please understand what I’m not saying. I’m not saying throw all other cultivation strategies out the window and only do these things—of course not. But usually you must do at least these things in order to raise major gifts. Other cultivation activity should help move the relationships from one step on the list to the next.)
The most successful MGOs out there know that this is the highest-value stuff they can do. And they make sure they have enough time to do it.
And, by the way, that doesn’t mean they’re working 24 hours a day. I’m not advocating for that either. You need to take care of yourself in order to be effective at anything. And that takes time too. You also need to make time for important personal relationships, family, hobbies, volunteer work, etc.
So, yes, time is limited. How are you going to make sure you have time for your most important, highest-value work?
Fanatical Prospecting offers a number of key strategies that have been helpful to me and my teams over the years.
Adopt a CEO Mindset
You knew it was going to start with the mental game, right!?
CEO’s are responsible and they are accountable. The buck stops with them and they know it. They have to generate the highest possible return given scarcity of resources and other constraints.
If you’re an MGO, or have any major gifts responsibilities, the same is true for you. And the most scarce resource is your time.
From Blount: “The difference between top performers and all of the other salespeople who are picking crumbs up off of the floor is top sales pros are masters at maximizing prime selling time for…selling.”
I’ve found this to be true in major gifts work. The more time you can A) make available, and then B) keep available for major gifts work (the stuff on the list above), the more successful you will be.
Nobody is going to do that for you. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Others, including your boss, will ask for more of your time, often for things that have nothing to do with major gifts work. They do this assuming you’re already on top of your most important work and that if you truly don’t have time, you’ll say so.
Like a CEO, you are responsible for marshaling the resources within your purview (your time being chief among them) so as to generate the highest possible return. Because you will be held accountable. And because your mission is worthy of it.
So what does this all this mean practically?
Here are some tips from Blount…
Protect the Golden Hours
“…and keep non-revenue-generating activities from infringing.”
Look. Stuff will always come up. Co-workers or donors or volunteers or whoever will always need this, that, or the other thing from you. There will always be a million little non-revenue-generating tasks to do that feel important, but probably aren’t really.
Most of it can wait.
Set aside time for fundraising—the key major gifts actions from the list above. And protect that time.
And, make it the best hours of the day. Hence “golden hours.” Don’t leave your real fundraising work until 4:00 pm. I have a million things to do, but I try and protect at least 9:00-11:00 for real, major gifts work. I’m at my best earlier in the day, so that’s when I want to do my most important work. When I was a full time major gifts officer, I tried my best to protect 9:00-3:00.
This is particularly important for MGOs who previously did other things at the organization and were promoted in some fashion. There really isn’t any such thing as “just adding some major gifts work” to an existing workload. Everything else will get done; major gifts won’t happen. You have to let something go.
The same principle also applies to organizations that want to get serious about major gifts, but have saddled their MGOs with a bunch of non-major gifts, non-revenue generating tasks. Again, see the list above for the actions that leads to major gifts.
So, what’s the solution?
Maximize support staff in order to maximize your major gifts officers.
And MGOs, you have to be ready to let stuff go, especially if you have support staff available to you. That low value task that you’re really good at and secretly really like (email newsletters, for example)…let it go. If someone else can do it 80% as well as you, delegate it and focus on higher value activity. That’s in the best interest of your organization and your mission.
Shifting work loads and responsibilities takes sensitivity, diplomacy, tact, and often multiple conversations across functions. And sometimes leadership needs to get involved. But, set up your support systems right (and treat everyone well and with appropriate gratitude) and watch your MGOs get more productive.
Here’s a big one…
So, you’re going to protect your best hours. You’re going to delegate the non-essentials. Now, how will you make the most out of the time you do have?
Here’s what helps me: time blocking.
It’s simple. Block time on your calendar for your most important tasks. And don’t let anything interfere with that time.
For example, in the heart of the major gifts phase in a capital campaign, I regularly maintain the following time blocks:
- Prospecting—Initial outreach and (lots of) follow-up to prospects our organization has yet to speak with about the campaign. The ask is for a visit, ideally in-person, with Zoom as a backup option.
- Proposal Writing—Whether you have a support person generate first drafts, or you create proposals yourself, you need some time to produce, review, finalize, and send these materials.
- Proposal Follow Up—After cultivation and solicitation, it’s closing time. Week-to-week, I have plenty of pending requests out in the world to follow up on. Do they have questions? Have they reached a decision? Do they have a timeline for their decision?
- Gift/Pledge Agreement Finalization—Achieving a mutual understanding and getting everything on paper. Sometimes this requires a fair amount of back-and-forth.
- Stewardship—You have to make time to say thank you. And, for major donors, I don’t just mean sending them a form letter.
- Updating Your CRM
These are my daily blocks: prospecting, proposal follow-up, and CRM updating. Again, we’re in the heart of a capital campaign’s major gifts phase—there’s plenty to do in each of these blocks.
And for the other three—proposal writing, gift/pledge agreement finalization, stewardship—I make sure I have time for them weekly.
Why is time blocking so powerful?
Because of Horstman’s Corollary.
This is key insight from Blount that I knew intuitively, but didn’t know by name.
Horstman’s Corollary follows the ever-famous Parkinson’s Law, which most people know. Parkinson’s Law states: Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.
For example, think of a task that most competent MGOs can complete in an hour—for example, making 10 prospecting phone calls. What happens, however, if its Friday morning and the MGO doesn’t have anything else on their calendar until noon. Unsurprisingly, it will take 3-4 hours to get through those prospecting calls.
Horstman’s Corollary states that the opposite is also true. Work also tends to contract to fit the time allowed. For example, if you challenged those same MGOs above to make their 10 calls in 30 minutes, they’d likely be able to do it.
Time blocking is how busy people get more done. And it’s how you avoid the pitfall of Parkinson’s Law and maximize the power of Horstman’s Corollary.
Why is that the case?
It leverages a principle that Blount calls…
Concentrate Your Power
You are terrible at multi-tasking.
So, don’t try and kid yourself. Bouncing around from task to task is way less efficient than focusing on a single task, getting it done, and then moving on to the next one.
I like to concentrate my power into the blocks outlined above. And I like to get even more granular.
Take my “prospecting” block, for example. On any given day, I’ll have a combination of prospecting emails, phone calls, and text messages I need to send. To further concentrate my power, I group all of the calls together, emails together, and text messages together.
This probably goes without saying, but concentrating your power also means limiting distractions.
Do whatever you need to do with your cell phone to make sure it doesn’t interrupt your flow. Dings, notifications, buzzes, beeps—they can all derail a call block. Your time blocks are sacred time for prioritizing your organization’s mission and your own career. You can give your attention to (i.e. make money for) Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube later.
Email too. Close down your email program during call and texting blocks. Any email you get can surely wait until after your call block.
So, again, time is limited. The best MGOs know how to get the most out of the time they have. It starts by protecting your “golden hours.” Say “no” to stuff; delegate.
Organize your time to get the most out of it. Concentrate your power by grouping like activities together into time-bound “blocks.” And focus on just one thing until it’s done.
Also, make sure to remove distractions, like cell phone notifications.
Do these things and not only will you be a Fanatical Prospector, you’ll find that your major gifts pipeline is consistently full of great opportunities for your organization.
Ruth Jones says
Thank you, thank you, thank you – for telling it like it is. As an MGO, I don’t have enough time in the day and I want to be efficient, but these are the things I need to hear and put into place. Thanks and I’ll give the book a read, too!