Productivity tips for fundraisers who are feeling exhausted and overwhelmed

Before the summer holidays, I found myself counting down the days a little bit.  I was conscious that I hadn’t had more than a long weekend off work since Christmas.  Up until July, I’d been working on four capital projects.  Keen to deliver outstanding quality fundraising for each of my clients, I was conscious that I was working through a period of intensity, possible to maintain in the short term, but unsustainable in the long term.  I was in need of either a set of inspiring productivity tips for fundraisers, or a holiday.

Alongside periods of rest, it is imperative that we recognise our own limits and that we gently pull back on tasks which push us close to our edge.   Not all elements of our jobs are created equal.  Some will be more stress inducing that others.  Critically, this will look different for each of us.

For example, I now have a personal policy against writing EU funding bids*.  Although I can do the work and do it well, the lack of creativity involved, the collating of huge swathes of information from every deep, dark corner of an organisation, drains me of energy to a point where I’m conscious that I’m not operating at my brightest, most energetic and productive self.

*Given the current political state of our country, I suspect any future opportunities for this kind of work will no longer be open (and herein lies the only good reason I’ve identified for Brexit!)

Conversely, I would work on strategic planning all day.  Understanding the different options for an organisation then deciding how best they can meet their goals is my idea of heaven.  I could tinker about with a gift table all day.

Similarly, I draw huge amounts of energy from spending time with major donors, understanding who they are and what interests them about the organisation I’m working for.  I love building trusted relationships and being the conduit through which people can reach their philanthropic goals.

To quote two fantastic colleagues of mine, Charly White and Chloe Amstein:

“No-one burns out through doing too much.  People burn out through doing too little of the things they love.”

Here are some productivity tips for fundraisers which work for me when I’m feeling tired, overwhelmed and close to my edge:

  1. Keep weekends sacred.

    Photo credit: Portia Crossley

Lie in, hang out with your kids, exercise (or don’t), get outdoors.  A proper break every week helps me to re-fill the tank just enough to see me through busy periods. If you can combine your weekends with a digital detox then all the better.

  1. MOVE!

Getting away from a screen and into my body is a great way to shake everything up.  Requiring my brain to work only on copying the instructor’s moves or putting one foot in front of the other is the best way to release, relax, away from intellectual requirement.  Getting fresh blood pumping around  my body feels great mentally, physically and supports a good night’s sleep (or in the case of morning exercise, a productive day ahead).

  1. Be realistic and plan ahead

If you find yourself working through a period of intense, deep work (for example the time leading up to a big fundraising event, or preparing and submitting a large Lottery bid), know that you can’t do it forever and that sometime soon, you may well burn out.  No athlete would operate at 100% for more than a short period of time.  Our brains deserve the same.

This means you’ll have to plan ahead to ensure you have the necessary recovery

Again, I’m not suggested you do less work, more that you do different work so that your brain has a chance to recalibrate, for example:

  • Spend some time catching up on admin, emails, expenses
  • Do something creative, write a blog post about the big thing you just worked on and what you’ve learned
  • Build in some time off (if you’re a consultant) or take what you’re owed in TOIL (if you’re employed), ideally do something you enjoy (this PERFECT example from fundraising coach Claire Warner is well worth a read)
  • If you’re feeling over-committed right now, look ahead at your diary and book some time off for the first possible opportunity.
  • For consultants, don’t be afraid to tell prospective clients that you’re not available for the next few months.  You don’t want to give them a version of you that isn’t your best and they likely don’t want that either.
  1. Outsource

Domestic stuff can be tricky to do well when you’re working hard and a messy home is a reminder to me of how I’m dropping balls all over the place.

Of all the productivity tips for fundraisers I could recommend, being kind to yourself is possibly the most important.

I also recognise the need to outsource where possible, for example:

  • asking my other half to take on more domestic duties (for example, I did NO cooking during May or June and he did school pick up / bedtime at least once a week so I could get to the gym / do a long day in the office)
  • making the most of after school clubs and / or doing a childcare swap with a friend for a day in the holidays
  • get a cleaner, use a service wash facility at your local launderette, hire someone to do your ironing

And if all else fails, know that Just Eat or Deliveroo have your back…

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