How to Achieve Calm Confidence in Fundraising... Part 2: L is for Level-Set Expectations

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When I was seven years old, the best movie I had ever seen was The Bad News Bears and its sequels. And while I urge you to never let your seven-year-old child watch the movies, I did learn a few lessons that I carry with me to this day. One of the lessons that I’ve gotten the most mileage from is the scene in the second movie in the series where the coach writes the word “ASSUME” on a chalkboard and begins partitioning the word to highlight “ASS,” “U” and “ME” as a way of teaching the Bears about the dangers of making assumptions.

He repeats the now familiar old saw: “When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me.” It’s unclear who said this first, but I find myself repeating it or something similar very often, particularly when working with organizations that struggle with fundraising and general productivity.

L is for Level-Set Expectations

This is the second in a series of posts I’m writing about the framework I use to help nonprofits learn to adopt a thoughtful and systematic approach to their work and, in turn, achieve a state of calm confidence in fundraising.

I use the acronym SLOWER to help define the elements of the framework: Schedule, Level-set expectations, Organize and optimize, Work-back schedule, Execution, Record, and repeat.

Today, I'll talk about level-setting expectations.

One of the more common problems we encounter when we begin working with new clients who are struggling with fundraising and/or productivity is that their team isn't taking the time to set realistic and accurate expectations. Instead, they ASSuME that everyone is on the same page about what or how much work can be completed and by when.

Some team members take on more than is realistic; others tend to go overboard in their attempt to under-promise and over-deliver. Still others lack any appreciation for the concept of setting any expectation whatsoever.

Sure, every team has one or two individuals who do a pretty good job of letting others know what they can be relied upon to accomplish, but more often than not, it stops there. And often, the person setting the expectations doesn’t take into account all the factors that will impact their ability to deliver as promised.

Ultimately, deadlines are missed, people rush and make mistakes, and stress levels rise across the organization, which leads to a loss of productivity and effectiveness. All of this comes as a result of making assumptions and a lack of clarity concerning realistic and accurate expectations.

This is why we use the term “level set”—not because it begins with the letter L and happens to work well for our acronym, but because, by definition, it means that all members of a team share a common level of understanding.

360° Expectation Setting

When advising teams about level-setting expectations, we take the concept one step further and encourage all team members to practice what we call "360° expectation setting." This involves being honest with themselves about what they can realistically take on; confirming mutual expectations with their direct reports, vendors, team members, and partners; and agreeing to expectations with their supervisor. A critical component of this step is setting expectations for both the near- and long-term.

Only once you've thoroughly considered the circumstances from all directions can you confidently set accurate expectations.

As more members of the team practice 360° expectation setting and collectively reach consensus, then expectations can be considered “level-set.”

Putting it to Work

One of the best tools to use for level-setting expectations is the flight calendar I introduced in a previous post in this series.

At least weekly, each team member should review the flight calendar against their personal work plans to make sure that the two are in sync. The flight calendar then becomes the tool the larger team and other stakeholders use to confirm what can be accomplished and by when. If conflicts appear, the flight calendar can easily be adjusted and any changes can be transferred back to individual work plans.

I plan to share an example of this process in an upcoming post.


Image Credit: Guwashi999