How to Achieve Calm Confidence in Fundraising… Part 5: E is for Execution

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Pop Quiz: Your boss has just stopped by your desk and told you about an exciting new opportunity for your nonprofit, and she thinks you’re just the person to lead the effort. As she finishes her description and leaves you to your thoughts, what’s your first reaction?

A. Freak out and start chasing her down the hall reminding her of just how busy you are.

B. Take pride in the fact that she selected you and tell yourself that you’ll do whatever it takes to work it into your schedule.

C. Spend the rest of the day reworking an old idea you had for a similar project.

D. None of the above.

If you chose D, congratulations, you answered correctly!

If you chose A, B, or C, don't feel bad; you reacted the way most people do to this type of situation. But if your current approach isn't working for you, continue reading and consider visiting the links below, beginning with Schedule.

E is for Execution

This is the fifth 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 Execution.

The reason I chose to introduce this particular post with a pop quiz was not to see if you have been paying attention (OK, maybe a little), but because execution is exactly where everyone’s mind typically goes when they are given a new assignment.

For example, let’s consider the most common reactions to the scenario presented in the pop quiz above:

A. “Oh no! I can't possibly take on more work on top of everything else I already have to do.” In this case, you've jumped directly to execution and are already thinking of all the work that this new project is going to require before you’ve looked at your schedule to see whether there might be a way of working it in or moving something else.

Take a few moments to review your workload and whether or not there are other things that might be delayed or adjusted to make room for this new effort. If not, calmly approach your boss and ask for her help in prioritizing your workload to accommodate the new project.

B. “I’ll figure out how to get it done. This is a big opportunity.” Here, you've acknowledged that you have other work, but you've mentally committed to the execution without taking the time to set realistic expectations about how you'll actually get everything done without dropping any balls.

This answer best matches my personality, and I can speak from personal experience that this approach will eventually catch up with you!

C. “I’ve got the best idea for this project. It’s going to be so cool! I'll start on it now.” Once again, you've committed to the execution of the project without considering any of your other responsibilities, but you've also not yet taken the time to determine your plan for success or what success even means.

Other than the initial rejection of more work, this is the most common reaction I've seen in the more than 20 years I've been working with businesses of all types and sizes. Unfortunately, jumping directly into execution without first considering how you'll be successful is also the biggest cause of missed goals, costly mistakes, and failed projects.

Getting Execution Right

Once you've determined whether you have room in your schedule to take on the project, have organized your strategy for successfully completing the project, and have developed an accurate task list for the steps needed, you’re ready to begin the execution phase.

Beyond knocking out tasks in the order that you planned for in your action brief (introduced in Part 3 of this series), an important detail to keep in mind is recognizing any learning opportunities that arise during the execution phase, and capturing them while they're fresh.

As you complete individual tasks, it’s a good idea to make note of your progress and whether it took more or less time to complete in your work-back schedule than you originally estimated. By doing so, you'll have a more accurate estimate of how long each task will take for future projects.

Can't We All Just Get to Work?

When I first introduce The SLOWER Framework™, people often tell me that they don't need to plan for recurring projects they've done many times before, or that though a project may be new, the tasks they'll use aren’t, so there’s no need for all of this planning and organizing.

This is perfectly reasonable. After all, we're on step five of a six-step framework and we're only just getting to the meat of the work. Is all of the prep work really necessary?

If your goal is to achieve calm confidence in fundraising, then some attention must be given to planning before you begin executing individual tasks, even those you've implemented many times before. Planning ahead helps prevent silly mistakes (maybe even some you’ve made before), ensures that you're working toward the right outcome, and that you have adequately set aside enough time to do your work right.

By investing the time needed to plan for success with each project, the amount of time spent planning will decrease with every new project, and the quality and predictability of your deliverables will improve dramatically over time. With sufficient time, higher quality, and predictable results comes calm confidence in fundraising.


Image Credit: Alberto G. (with changes)