“What are you going to say, ‘no’ to?”
I asked this question of a client when their alumni relations team was looking at their annual planning calendar and it was clear they had more great ideas than they could implement.
I posed the question not only to get them to think about prioritizing their list in the moment but also to encourage their understanding more broadly that saying, “no,” is a needed tool along the pathway toward increasing their impact. No team can, in the span of one year, implement every good idea well.
The exchange that followed got me thinking about the “not-to-do” list concept. What should always be on our advancement “not-to-do” list in order to help us focus our efforts on tasks that provide the biggest impacts. Here is a start: Three advancement tasks or beliefs we should stop (or not start):
- Starting a new activity/event/solicitation/etc., without a commitment to repeat it regardless of the initial results. “Well, let’s try it and see how it goes,” can be code language for, “We aren’t willing to prioritize, so let’s see if this works.” If what we are contemplating as a new task is not aligned with our broader philosophy and plan and/or we aren’t committed longer-term to it, we shouldn’t start it.
- Looking to software/artificial intelligence/other technology to make our professional lives easier. Technology, in all its forms, rarely makes our lives easier or our jobs more leisurely. I’m reminded of the advent of the modern-day washing machine and other electric household appliances and the fact that people (mostly women) didn’t gain hours and hours of free time. Instead, expectations changed. The concept of “clean clothes” now meant that you washed them after each wear (instead of after many wears). And, the expectation that women work outside the home changed dramatically as well. Life didn’t become easier. It became filled with new expectations. I’m not a Luddite, however. New technologies are helpful and needed in a variety of ways. But, making decisions on adopting new tech based on the idea that it will be the “silver bullet,” is misguided.
- Treat volunteer leaders (i.e., governing board members, advisory council members, etc.) as if they should know to give generously. When we assume that our closest volunteer leaders are going to give generously of their own accord, we end up either not inviting their giving purposefully and personally or we end up doing it haphazardly. Additionally, we grouse at the end of the fiscal year about the handful of volunteer leaders who haven’t yet given and complain that, “they should know,” that giving each year is important. Instead, we should create personalized plans for each volunteer leader and make the time to visit with each annually in order to discern with them how their giving can be both meaningful and impactful.
The generation of new ideas, new tasks, new solicitations, new events, new activities is not an issue for advancement leaders. Everywhere we turn, volunteers, team members, well-meaning colleagues, workshops, and other sources load us down with new ideas to raise more money, get more engagement, or increase the number of donors, etc.
A willingness to say, “no” or “not this year,” while making choices based on a keen understanding of what motivates humans to be generous and engaged, is one underpinning of advancement success.
It may feel easier in the moment to say, “yes,” but that doesn’t mean it will be helpful.