02 Jan And that brings us ‘round to Do, oh, oh, oh……
By David Allen, Development for Conservation
Start again. January of another year. 2017 is over. History.
Fa, sol, la, ti, Done.
And January brings us ‘round again “to Do.”
2018 yawns before us. It could be anything. What will it be for you?
January is a good time for reflection. Where have we been? How did we get here? What could we have done differently? What have we learned?
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For example: Do you hold on to your email? You shouldn’t. It clogs up the server, and someone once told me that claiming they have to go through your email is a classic strategy for FODs (Forces of Darkness) to use in lawsuits. But you can use the exercise of tossing your email as an opportunity to reflect on your entire year. Here’s one way to do it:
- Set the presentation sort to “From” instead of “Date”
- Quickly go through and delete everything you can delete without thinking. Spam, updates, blog notifications, news alerts, that kind of stuff.
- Then go back somewhat more patiently, and look for attachments. Are there things you really want? Will ever use? Have already saved? Can these be saved in a folder somewhere and then deleted from your email?
- Now, look at the rest. Are they from people you care about? Do they carry some meaning for you? Can they be saved permanently as text files or in an archive? (I have the best email conversations with my wife, and I always save the threads every year in an archive file.) Can they be summarized in some way or (dare I say) printed? Do they remind you of someone you have neglected, or something left undone from 2017? Can you deal with that and then delete?
- Now – trust me on this – put all the rest in an email folder called 2017 Trash Staging, and forget about it. On a dozen or so occasions next year, you will have some reason to go back through those emails to find something you vaguely remember, but it won’t happen very often.
- Save that folder for three years and then close your eyes and press delete. You’ll not regret it. If you already have this habit, you can now delete the 2014 file.
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Did you write yourself notes over the last year? – about the development plan, the board campaign, the membership drive, the communications theme, or the fundraising event? (See Taking Stock) If so, now is a great time to go back and read what you wrote back then. What have you learned? What will you do differently this year?
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Now look ahead. I’m looking at three checklist items each year in January: a new communications theme, getting my board campaign organized, and making sure my donor contacts for the year are well planned and organized.
Here are several tips for arriving at a communications theme for your organization:
- First make it a group process. Sure, it takes longer, but you will be dependent on everyone buying in and coming back to the theme with everything they produce as well. Engaging everyone up front will make everything more effective later.
- Review everything you produced last year, even if it wasn’t connected with an obvious theme. Was there an intentional theme? An accidental one? Is there a thread that could be followed this year?
- Now take a look ahead to what will likely happen this year. Is there something that jumps out for you?
- Now brainstorm (no bad ideas yet!) and develop as long a list of themes as possible. You’ll want to save this list; the ideas will be useful for starting the exercise next year as well. Then winnow, combine, and wordsmith. Be picky.
- Go with a single theme, rather than multiple themes or sub-themes. Less is more here. Having a theme does not constrain you to only writing and communicating about that topic, but it does mean that the theme should be more visible in your materials than other items. And it will get you thinking about how to connect everything. Repetition aids comprehension for your audiences. Having a theme running through will create the possibility for connection, convergence, and leverage. Your work will be more memorable, and more likely to be retained.
- Bring Judy Anderson’s concept of “drip feed communications” to bear. Plan a series of news stories containing parts of a larger story. For example, if your theme is “Stewardship,” you might want to talk about land management challenges in February, restoration training and work days in May, work party results with before and after photos in August, and stewardship budget needs in the fall appeal (and thank you letters!). To the extent you can, calendar these communications.
- Make the theme internally visible – meaning post it in big letters on the wall where board and/or staff will see it. Regularly ask yourself whether you can tell what the theme is just from reading some of the communications materials.
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I’ll leave you with this: I use January 9th – in about a week – as my cut-off for membership counts. Very few checks arrive in the mail before the 9th that are actually intended to be dated in January. Most of them are intended to be previous year gifts. So, the 9th works out really well.
How many people actually gave your organization money last year? Count how many people gave you money between 1/9/17 and 1/8/18. Now – where did they come from? Facebook? Direct mail? Tabling at the State Fair? Special event? And if you’re willing, let me know what your numbers are. I’ll use the information to track retention rates over the next several years.
And that reminds me of my favorite accounting trick. For each check that arrives between 1/1 and 1/8, enter it into your database as a 12/31 pledge so that it creates an accounts receivable. That way it counts more officially as a previous year gift. Then, when you enter the actual check on the date it arrives, it becomes a pledge payment rather than a new gift.
PS: Those of you who follow this blog closely will recognize most of this post from last New Year. Guilty. But I liked it a lot last year, and making much of this post into a New Year’s ritual is a good thing – right?
Photo by Simon Robben courtesy of Stocksnap.io.