What’s Work?

For just about 20 years, my work consisted of going to meetings, then meeting with staff to assign projects or share information so that they could do those projects. What I didn’t ever get to, where the things that I thought I should be doing in order to get my work done. Then, a little over a year ago, I started consulting.

I still go to meetings, but these tend to generate a different kind of work. They clarify what I need to get done. After these meetings, I spend a lot of time writing proposals, researching information, designing and then interpreting surveys and questionnaires. I write up the results of assessments, create reports, develop plans. Often I conceive courses or workshops, and frequently I end up in front of a group, teaching or facilitating these courses and workshops. And often, after several days without meetings, I start to panic. I need to work, I think, and here I am, having fun. It takes awhile for me to remember how productive I’ve actually been.

Ironically, weeks when I meet friend for lunch, attend (rather than lead) a workshop, I feel as if I’ve accomplished, well work. All of which translates to my feeling guilty for getting things done and thinking I’m working when really I’m not.
Work, obviously, is the issue. What’s work? Sitting in generally unproductive meetings whose main purpose seems to be giving out information and talking about the fact that something needs to be done (presumably by somebody), then having other meetings in the hope that someone will actually do something with that information? Or should it be accomplishment based? Gather the information and then use that information to move something forward and thereby get something done?

The latter, I think. That means being very clear bout the purpose of your job or the jobs of your subordinates. If that job is fundraising, then (duh) the purpose of your job should be to bring in funds. That is the easy part on which to get consensus. How to do that…there’s the rub.

Being an effective fundraiser depends a lot on your organization, the size of your fundraising staff, the resources you can tap into. What works in one place may not work in another and the amount of effort one must expend to raise a gift isn’t static. Therefore, to help you be effective, your job description—the things you are expected to do—must be specific and make sense in your particular context.

Most fundraising job descriptions say that you are responsible for “identifying, cultivating and soliciting (here you must fill in the blank with something like “Annual,” or “Major” or even ”Corporate”—unless you will be responsible for it all, in which case you must leave out the blank altogether)—prospects. Then, in most cases, there are a whole host of other tasks you are supposed to accomplish, none of which ever raised a dollar but all of which take enormous amounts of time. Note that we haven’t yet mentioned all those other things you are expected to do or to attend, all of which also take up your rapidly diminishing time.

The more “other tasks as assigned” you have, the more your ability to fundraise suffers. You become less focused, and more stressed. All that money they expected you to raise doesn’t materialize. Is it any wonder that the typical tenure of a fundraiser is 18 months at any one job?

In my consulting work, I typically have a first meeting where we talk about the client’s situation. I then write a proposal, based on what I think the scope of work is, what methodology I will use to accomplish that work and what deliverables I will be able to provide. Sometimes we tweak something here, add or delete something there, until we are in agreement what I will be doing, and what they will do, during a specific period of time.

Occasionally, a client will want me to attend a not-terribly-necessary meeting, or do something that is outside our agreed upon scope of work. Because my payment depends on me accomplishing a certain number of things in a specified amount of time, I cannot afford to let myself to get sidetracked. Nor, when I point out what will have to give if I do A instead of B, do my clients. For the most part (there is always that exception!) we stay focused, on track and on target.

Consulting, of course, tends to be made up of a number of finite jobs, each with a definite beginning and ending. Full time work, on the other hand, is often more fluid with many more things on your proverbial plate. Still, if managers and staff took the time to regularly identify the scope of work that must be accomplished during some period of time, how that work will be addressed and what results will be expected, I suspect that a lot more work, and a lot less busy work, would get accomplished.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at janet@janetlevineconsulting.com. Her online grantwriting class is available at www.janetlevineconsulting.com/classes.html.


About janetlevineconsulting

For over 20 years, Janet Levine has worked for and with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping to grow their advancement programs. Her consulting company, Janet Levine Consulting, serves a wide range of organizations from small, all-volunteer agencies to major national organizations. She regularly teaches courses in non-profit management, fundraising and grant development, both face-to-face and online at http://courses.lmlearningstation.com/. In addition to her nonprofit work, Janet brings years of experience as a business and sales manager in the for-profit sector. She has an MBA from the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University.
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