A Thoughtful and Systematic Approach to Nonprofit Work

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In a recent series of posts, I described how to achieve calm confidence in fundraising and marketing through The SLOWER Framework™. The term SLOWER not only refers to the pace at which actions are performed more efficiently and effectively and are more fully enjoyed. It is also an acronym that, when expanded, is summarized as follows:

First, prioritize an overall Schedule of responsibilities. Then Level-set expectations for what’s possible with yourself and others, Organize and Optimize individual projects, and build a Work-back schedule to help ensure deadlines are met. Only then do you begin Execution followed by Recording and Repeating during which you record progress, results, and lessons learned, and finally repeat the whole process.

Conceptually, this explanation usually makes sense, but often when I’m introducing The SLOWER Framework to individuals and teams for the first time, it helps to give a more practical example of how they would use the Framework.

The SLOWER Framework for Individuals

Like most nonprofit fundraising and marketing professionals, you’re probably responsible for a handful of overlapping projects at any given time. Within The SLOWER Framework, these projects are known as “actions” regardless of the type of work. They can be any type of fundraising, marketing, programmatic, or operational work.

Along with all of the other work you’re responsible for this year, you probably maintain a calendar where these actions are listed. Within the Framework, we use a “flight calendar”, which lists chronologically the planning/prep, execution, and analysis phases of each action. This annual calendar of actions is maintained throughout the year and used to schedule planned and evolving work.

Within the Framework, you are encouraged to conduct a weekly review of the flight calendar and plan your work for the next several days. This review serves to confirm with yourself and others what work is due and when it will be completed, and whether any conflicts need to be addressed. This step is called level-setting expectations.

During this review, let’s say you notice there is one action in the planning/prep phase, four in the execution phase, and two in the analysis phase.

Noting these seven actions, you would then access their respective project plans to confirm the status, progress, and remaining work for each action. Within the Framework, these project plans are referred to as “action briefs” and are where you organize and optimize your strategy for each action.

Upon reviewing the briefs, you note that the brief for the action that is in planning/prep is incomplete, so you book time this week on your personal calendar to complete the strategic planning for the action. This should include setting the key deliverable dates and milestones for the action by creating a work-back schedule, an essential element in every action brief.

After reviewing the work-back schedules of the remaining six action briefs, you schedule more time in your personal calendar to complete the deliverables that are due over the course of the next several days.

The four actions that are in the execution phase may include activities like writing the copy for an email, or pulling a list from your donor database.

The actions in the analysis phase may include capturing and listing the metrics from a media campaign, the open or conversion rate for an appeal, or writing a brief analysis of how well you performed relative to the goals for the action.

When you have completed all activities related to an action and have taken the time to record the results of your analysis, you mark the action as “closed” both in the action brief and on the flight calendar.

As you complete the various deliverables due this week, you mark them as “complete” in the work-back schedules of their respective action briefs and repeat the process again the following week.

Learning Opportunities

If you followed this example closely, you may have noticed that I didn’t go into detail about optimizing.

Optimization is the act of making something as effective or functional as possible.

Within The SLOWER Framework, optimization spans all elements and is accomplished through a process of incremental improvement known as “Learning Opportunities.” This process helps ensure you document and learn from things that do—and don’t—go well and that you apply the learning opportunities to future actions.

This example has focused on The SLOWER Framework as it applies to the day-to-day work of individuals. I’ll illustrate the Framework as it applies to teams in a future post.

Next Steps

If you’re already using a system similar to the one outlined here, you’re already realizing the dramatic benefits of adopting a thoughtful and systematic approach to your work. If not, and if achieving a state of calm confidence for yourself, your team, and possibly your entire organization sounds appealing, I encourage you to take some time to read through The SLOWER Framework series and contact us with any questions about how to use the Framework to develop a system for your team.


Image credit: Loozrboy