And that brings us ‘round to Do, oh, oh, oh……

And that brings us ‘round to Do, oh, oh, oh……


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


Start again. January of another year. 2018 is over. History.

Fa, sol, la, ti, Done.

And January brings us ‘round again “to Do.”

2019 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?


For example: De-Clutter

One mental image for de-cluttering is to move EVERYTHING out. Then, move back in only those things that you either explicitly want to keep or need to use moving forward. And you can use the exercise as an opportunity to reflect on what’s really important.

Applying that idea to your ______________ can make you feel better, cleaner, tidier, readier to meet the challenges of the coming year. Fill in the blank with:

  • Desk drawer
  • Closet
  • Car or car trunk
  • File cabinet
  • Entire personal office space


Applying that idea to your electronic space can make you feel better, too (and make it easier to find stuff). Take email. Do you hold on to your email? You shouldn’t. It clogs up the server. And you can use the exercise of tossing your email as an opportunity to reflect on your past 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 2018? Can you deal with that and then delete?
  • Now – trust me on this – put all the rest in an email folder called 2018 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 2015 file.


You’re welcome.


For example: Write a reflective letter

Assume that you are not there a year from now – not anywhere around, in fact. Write your replacement a letter explaining where you are right now. Talk about what your priorities were and how they might have changed over time. Be analytical and reflective, but most of all, be candid. Talk about what you learned and what you might have done differently in hindsight. Talk also about what you’re most proud of, and where your efforts might have been brilliant. If you aren’t there a year from now, your reflections will help whoever is. If you are there, it will provide you an important baseline from which to measure your progress.

Did you write yourself a letter last year? – about the development plan, the board campaign, the membership drive, the communications theme, or the fundraising event? 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?


For example: List your top 40

I regularly suggest that organizations think in terms of a Top 100 – or T100 – list of the donors that will be their most important. But each person also has a similar list of relationships that are the most important for them. Who would make that list for you? Are they Board members? Donors? Volunteers? Staff relationships?

Whoever they are, write each person’s name on a paper list. As you do, take a moment to consider each person instead of each name. When was the last time you interacted with that person? When was the last time you initiated that contact? When will you see them next? Do they know how much they mean to you?


Now look ahead

I always look at three checklist items each year in January: A new communications theme, getting my board campaign organized and making sure my donor contacts for 2019 are well planned and organized.

I’ll be using this space to talk more about Board campaigns and donor contact planning in the coming weeks, but here’s a sample process for developing a communications theme for 2019:

  • 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. Lay it all down on a conference table and look at it as an outsider would. Was there an intentional theme? An accidental one? Is there a thread that could be followed this year? Do the pieces appear obviously to have come from the same organization?
  • 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.


I’ll leave you with this: I use January 9th – tomorrow – 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 2018 gifts.

And that reminds me of my favorite accounting trick. For each check that arrives between the first and the 8th – today – 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 2018 gift. Then, when you enter the actual check on the date it arrived, it becomes a pledge payment rather than a new gift.





PS: Those of you who follow this blog closely will recognize parts of this post from the last several New Years. Guilty. But making much of this a New Year’s ritual is a good thing – right?

PPS: One of the coolest ideas I’ve seen ever – the S’Cool Bus.


Photo by Skitter Photo courtesy of

Share this!
    Posted at 12:34h, 09 January

    Happy new year, David! This is not a rerun for me, so thanks! very helpful as I tackle my cluttered desk, and launch RRFs 25th anniversary campaign this year! Kimberly

    • David Allen
      Posted at 14:29h, 09 January

      25th Anniversary! Wow! I look forward to hearing about it from 75 miles away!