Being an occasional procrastinator, I found myself drawn to a recent Chronicle of Higher Education blog post titled “Procrastination, Our Old Frenemy.” The item, by Jason B. Jones of Connecticut’s Trinity College, is thought-provoking and challenges those of us who tend to dawdle and delay (as most of us do from time to time) to consider the damage such dilatory behavior can cause.
The Prevalence of Fundraiser Procrastination
During my fundraising days I most often procrastinated when I had to reach out to new prospects or challenging donors. While I’m not proud of that, I do take some solace in knowing that numerous colleagues also engage in similar hesitation and delay. Indeed, when I confessed my fundraising procrastination during a recent TalentED workshop, every head in the room nodded in agreement.
Jones’s article conveniently served as a bibliography of other Chronicle articles on the topic. (I’ve provided links to several of those entries at the end of my post.) The article I found to be most relevant is the aptly titled “Procrastination” from the blog of Shawn Blanc. Blanc explores the causes of general procrastination, which include: lack of motivation, fear, other things we’d rather be doing, the ease with which we’re distracted, feelings of being overwhelmed, stubbornness, and our own pre-existing habits.
Reasons for Fundraiser Procrastination
Blanc’s list is a useful starting point for thinking about the causes of fundraiser procrastination, which I decided include the following:
- Anxiety and insecurity: Being stressed about talking with strangers, unsure about how they will react, or feeling unworthy of their time and attention.
- Fear of rejection: Worrying about be turned down for an appointment or a gift—or about not being welcomed.
- Absence of confidence: Uncertain about one’s own skills or abilities, lacking in training, or being unsure about the purpose or point of the expected donor contact.
- Distractions and lack of focus: Not prioritizing one’s responsibility for building relationships and driving donors toward significant gift commitments, as well as getting derailed by other demands, activities or dramas.
- Inadequate incentives or accountability: It doesn’t matter greatly to others whether or not donor contacts are completed within a particular timeframe, and the absence of serious consequences doesn’t impart much motivation.
- Lack of discipline: The fundraiser has never developed the appropriate habits and practices of effective gift officers.
The first step in fixing any problem is acknowledging that we have one. I encourage my fellow fundraisers to pause and consider how often, either overtly or subconsciously, they evade their responsibilities for making timely contact with their assigned donors and prospects—particularly those individuals who are challenging, difficult, unpleasant or simply unknown.
Leadership Strategies for Minimizing Procrastination
It would be ideal if individuals would acknowledge their procrastination tendencies and take their own steps to overcome this impediment. But knowing that “contact postponement” is widespread among gift officers at all levels of experience, I urge managers to proactively help gift officers confront and address this impediment. Drawing upon my own experience, as well as insights from the various Chronicle articles, I recommend that fundraising leaders employ the following strategies to minimize fundraiser procrastination:
- Heal Thyself: Lead by Example. If you expect those you lead to not procrastinate, then don’t’ engage in those bad habits yourself.
- Deadlines and Targets. Set times by which critical fundraising calls must be finished, along with weekly goals for completed contacts—including calls to secure meetings, advance relationships, and thank donors for gifts.
- Make Appointments. Set aside time each day and/or week during which your fundraisers are expected drop everything else to be in their workspaces making calls. If an extenuating circumstance arises, the missed calling time must be made up immediately.
- The Buddy System. Encourage fundraisers to have one or more colleagues to whom they are accountable for making their expected contacts. Support staff who work with gift officers can fill this role, as well as help ensure the set-aside time are protected from other intrusions.
- Self-Rewards. As an incentive, ask fundraisers to schedule their most enjoyable, stress-free tasks for immediately after the expected donor contacts are to be completed.
- No “Padding” of Portfolios. Every fundraiser develops relationships with certain donors and prospects who they look forward to meeting. Make sure that gift officers don’t fill their time having multiple visits with these low-risk, low anxiety calls.
- Training and Practice. The most effective antidote to fundraiser procrastination is providing staff with solid training and lots of practice with the activities that often prompt procrastination: getting appointments, cold calls, overcoming objections, and dealing with difficult people.
- Remember that Fundraising is Fun. Once they get rolling, most fundraisers discover their pre-contact anxieties dissipate. But staff can’t achieve this epiphany until they get out and “just do it.”
The Blanc article also explores the possibility that “unchecked procrastination bleeds over” into other facets of our work and personal endeavors. Blanc suggests that “having structure and focus in one aspect of our life gives us clarity and momentum that brings structure to the other areas.” His theory is both plausible and encouraging, and it’s one I’m planning to further explore myself.
Do you agree that procrastination is a significant concern among fundraisers and directly impedes our progress? Have I named the correct reasons for it? Have you found other strategies for dealing with it? I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions!
In the meantime, let’s all commit to helping our staff and ourselves follow through on making the calls, building the relationships, and soliciting the contributions that are central to the success of our fundraising programs and the institutions we represent.
Perhaps you can begin by forwarding this post to another procrastinator. And then log off and start making some calls!