Last week I started this mini-series about Tom Kalil’s thought-provoking article, “Policy Entrepreneurship at the White House; Getting Things Done in Large Organizations.” Before I go on, I’d like to reiterate: don’t let the long title put you off reading it, nor make the mistake of thinking that it only has value for people in behemoth-sized fundraising offices.
Kalil puts forth 12 maxims that he and his colleagues found to be true for getting things to happen, and I’ve seen evidence over the years that each of these recommendations have been true for fundraising shops that are achieving strong results.
In most fundraising shops, the research, prospect identification, operations, and relationship management teams don’t tend to be located on the bridge of the ship. But that doesn’t mean that leadership can’t come from those areas, and – I’d argue – it’s important that it does.
So if you missed last week’s installment on how the first six maxims apply to our work, go take a look – I’ll wait here. When you’re back, just start below to catch up.
Maxim 7: Find and recruit allies
Kalil encourages us to develop and collaborate with a network of allies, including “idea people;” the assistants and chiefs of staff for the powerful in your network; “Doers” – people who follow up when they say they will; people with a lot of social capital; and people who are eager to make an impression or further their career.
It’s never a bad idea to build a collaborative network when you want to create change, and thinking strategically about who might want to help you in your endeavor – rather than going it alone – is always smart. Build up a network of supportive champions to help, especially when you may be rowing against the current.
My addition to Kalil’s list would be to include people that you trust to tell you the truth if a plan needs more work (or is just a bad idea).
Maxim 8: Think of the end at the beginning
I laughed as I read this, because I really think this should have been Maxim 1. Think of every time you’ve done a successful wealth screening, or planned a multi-stage project that worked, or been involved in a database conversion that actually went live on time. It was probably because your asked yourselves thing like:
What do we want our campaign reports to look like? That helped determine the fields you needed to populate in your database and the information you needed to know from donors and prospective supporters.
What do we want to learn from our wealth screening? Thinking about that first guided you in what records to send to the vendor.
How many prospective donors at what levels do we need to meet our goal? Imagine not having thought of that before planning your capital campaign!
Success isn’t ever guaranteed, but it’s certainly a lot more secure if you think of the end result first, and then back-fill the details for how you’re going to achieve it.
Leadership from the top, the middle, or from the lowest rung means that you’re helping think about these details for your department or for your specific position.
Maxim 9: Save the world one document at a time (or “write it down, make it happen).
Sometimes things become important – or accepted divisional policies – simply because they’re written down. They become codified and made routine. If a policy or series of activities are important for your department’s (or your entire division’s) success, consider creating a step by step manual, or road map for people to follow.
I can think of all kinds of ways I’ve seen this used in successful fundraising shops, from prospect research and prospect management manuals and user guides, to “Research For the Non-Researcher” links pages, to gift planning fact sheets, to gift processing manuals, to internal podcasts and presentations on key topics.
These documents can become especially helpful when there is a transfer from one person to another, or to solidify a process for doing something.
Maxim 10: Make the schedule your friend
Indefinite deadlines are the enemy of getting things accomplished, and in this maxim Kalil outlines the benefits of creating an event (or, sometimes, an artificial deadline) to move things along.
Certain people are brilliant at setting (what some might consider false) deadlines (say, for example, for when a profile is needed), but the fact is that setting a deadline – even if it’s a made-up one – is brilliant. Sometimes that deadline just a dart-throw at the calendar – “I would like the information on this date, but I could take it later if I needed to” and no one should ever feel bad about asking if a deadline is set in stone or moveable.
Creating false deadlines for yourself is also not a bad move if there a task that you wish would go away. Getting it over with by creating a deadline for yourself to move it off the schedule frees you up for more creative work after.
Maxim 11: Use standing meetings effectively
Many of us know the experience of Death by Prospect Review Meeting. Tom Kalil shares 4 direct questions to help you never have a 6-hour meeting again. (or maybe it just felt like six hours…):
- What are you trying to accomplish?
- Have you worked to “pre-sell” your position to key participants in the meeting?
- Should you bring a document to help shape the discussion and signal your interest in the topic?
- Are clear next steps and assignments coming out of the meeting and captured in minutes?
Answering these questions yourself well in advance of each meeting will help you provide efficiency and leadership that everyone in the room will appreciate, and your preparation will mean that your goals will have more of a chance of being met.
Maxim 12: Have a large and constantly growing “toolbox.”
This maxim hits me right in my core, because two things that I strongly believe in are continuing education and understating the context within which we’re working. As you’ve heard me say many times before, prospect research is a field where we have to take responsibility for our own learning – whether it’s advocating for our place at the table or our seat in a conference chair. It’s only through understanding what the tools are and how to use them that we will succeed professionally – and help our organizations succeed on a collective scale.
It also means taking ourselves out of our comfort zone to shadow a fundraiser or attend an event or read a book that informs our work. Or to look outside our normal wheelhouse – a White House, for example – to get ideas on how to be more entrepreneurial and serve as leaders, no matter where we sit on the org chart.