[VIDEO] The Productive Executive Director: 3 Things You’re Over Complicating

Rachel Bearbower will break down the three things you’re probably over complicating to help you become a more productive Executive Director. And by doing less, you’ll have time to raise more!

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Rachel. I got 3:00 Eastern. Is it okay if I go ahead and get this party started?

Rachel: Yeah, let’s do this.

Steven: All right, awesome. Well, good afternoon, everybody. Good morning, I guess, if you are way out west of California and if you are watching this as a recording, I hope you’re having a good day no matter when and where you are. We are here to talk about how to be a productive ED, specifically we’re going to be talking about three things that you might be overcomplicating. And I’m guilty of that, I’ve overcomplicated lots of things, so I’m going to be sitting here just enjoying the knowledge. But I’m so happy to see a full room. Hope you ‘re all doing okay, staying warm out there and staying healthy. And thanks for being here. I’m Steven, I’m over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion, as always.

And just a quick couple of housekeeping items. Just want to let you all know that we are recording this session and we’ll be sending out that recording later on today. You should already have the slides, but, if we missed you, we’ll get you the slides as well. So don’t worry about missing anything. If you have to leave early, maybe you’ve got another appointment or somebody interrupts you, I know how it is. It’s okay, we’ll get you all that good stuff. You can even send the recording on to a co-worker or friend, maybe your ED. If you’re feeling bold, that’d be okay. But don’t worry, we’ll get you all the goodies you hear over the next hour or so.

Most importantly, I know a lot of you’ve already done this, but feel free to send in any chats, any questions, comments. We love it. We’d love to hear from you. We’re going to save time at the end for Q&A. So don’t be shy. There’s a chat box and a Q&A box, you can use either of those. No problem, we’ll keep an eye on them.

And we’d love to hear from you. You can tweet us, both Rachel and I are on Twitter. So is Bloomerang. We’ll see any questions . . . however, if you want to send a carrier pigeon, if you’re within an hour away from Indy, do it. We want to hear from you is the point there. So don’t sit on those hands.

If this is your first Bloomerang webinar, just want to say an extra welcome to you folks. We always have a few newbies every week. But if this is your first session, welcome. We do these webinars just about every single Thursday throughout the year. I think we’re approaching like 600 webinars in 9 years, something just ridiculous. I need to do the official account because I want to know when we get to 1,000, that feels like a milestone.

Rachel: That’s a huge milestone.

Steven: Yeah, that’s fun. But if all you know about Bloomerang is our webinars, you’re missing a little bit because we are also a provider of donor management software. That’s kind of our core business. If you’re interested in that, check us out. We’re pretty easy to find online. There’s all kinds of videos you can watch on our website. So if you’re in the market or just curious, check that out.

But don’t do that right now, at least wait an hour. Because my good buddy Rachel is joining us from beautiful north central Iowa by way of Washington State. Rachel, how’s it going? Are you doing okay?

Rachel: I’m a little cold but I’m doing okay.

Steven: Well, you’re going to bring the warmth and sunshine, like you always do. That’s always been my experience hanging out with you. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a long time. We’ve known each other for many years but never . . . and it’s my fault, never gotten you on the webinar. So we are righting that wrong today. If you guys don’t know her, check her out over at Small Shop Strategies, really awesome resources for fundraisers. Especially small shops, as you’ll see in the name. But something I often mention in these introductions about my guests is she has, you know, been in your shoes. That’s one thing I always look for, she’s been an ED and knows the content that they are delivering here. So you’re going to want to follow her afterwards, she’s got a great newsletter, she’s got a great blog. And it’s just a beautiful human being. So, Rachel, I’m going to pipe down because I’ve already taken up too much of your time. But let’s see if we can get your slides up here.

Rachel: Yeah. Let’s do this.

Steven: The floor will be yours. There we go.

Rachel: Well, I am pumped to be here. Steven, it is always a pleasure to see you and get to hang out. So let’s get rocking and rolling. And I would love to know, when you think of being productive, a productive executive director, what do you think of? So I want you to put that in the chat. I’m going to do my best to be able to catch some of your answers but, you know, it’s chat and you guys are pretty quick. Do, I see “efficiency” from Aaron and “tackling my to-do list,” “multitasking.” Oh my gosh, it’s like . . . what is it called? Waterfall chat? “Raising money,” “strategize,” “supportive.” Oh, these are really great answers. I love this.

Okay, so, you know what you want. All right. So I’m going to just minimize this chat because I want to be able to focus on this presentation. And I want to let you know that you are totally ready to be a productive executive director. And you have everything that you need. You already have it. But we all know there’s a but. Right? Yes, you are overcomplicating these three things. And they are probably preventing you from raising the funds that you want to raise in your organization. 

Okay. So try not to crash my website, but I created a worksheet for you. So if you want to go to my website, you can go to, and you can grab a worksheet that you can print out, or just have up, as I am going through this. I will say that you don’t have to have this to make it through the presentation but it’s nice to have. So feel free to grab it and use it. It will definitely help you organize your thoughts and, hopefully, at the end, make you feel a little bit more productive.

All right. So, while you are heading to my website, I also just want to mention that it might take a minute or 2 or 10 to get the worksheets. So don’t panic if you’re not getting it right away, it will come. Check your trash, check your spam, you know, it might end up there. But we will make sure that we get it to you no matter what.

So okay. You are here for a reason. You signed up to this because you were like, you know, “Yeah, I would like to be a little more productive.” One of the main things that I teach is turning off your notifications, turning off your distractions, and focusing. I know how hard it is to focus. And, especially, when you’re on a webinar, it’s so easy to also be checking your email and double checking your Instagram and maybe running and, you know, changing a load of laundry. But, for the next 40 minutes or so, I really encourage you to turn off your distractions and focus on you. Because this is really important. And you signed up today, and so I know that it is important to you. So do yourself that favor and just turn off those distractions.

So I want to introduce myself. Hi, I’m Rachel. So I have over 15 years of experience in the nonprofit sector. And what I mean by that is that is the amount of time that I’ve actually been paid, although my experience really . . . it goes far beyond that. And I’ve definitely worn all the hats. And so, for those of you who kind of started your career maybe in the volunteer-management space, I want to share this funny photo that I came across not that long ago. This is when I was a full-on volunteer coordinator. And, as you can see, this is one of those clipboards that, you know, clearly I was not the first person to use it. And I definitely found it in the bottom of a storage closet, and it sat on my desk for years. And so I feel like, if anyone can relate to that, it’s the EDs in the house that like have done all the different jobs. So I am with you, I’ve been there.

So I founded an organization and built it from the ground up and built it into a really amazing thriving organization that I was so proud to be part of. This is a photo of me while chatting with one of my adorable girls who was in the program. Well, Nora. I think she’s like 17 now, it’s crazy. But here’s the deal. I was frazzled. I was in a systemless, underfunded, overwhelmed organization and I was a hot mess of an executive director. 

So when I left my organization, I founded Small Shop Strategies. I was so frustrated, as an executive director, because I felt like there wasn’t a plan. There was not a road map. I was like, “I am not the first person to have done this. Why is this not easier?” And I felt like I hit every single stumbling block on my path. And, when I started Small Shop Strategies, I wanted to make sure that there was a road to success for executive directors. There is, at least, a pathway for you to know that you are on the right track, and then you can take, you know, choose your own adventure route, once you’ve had the foundation.

So right now you might be maybe feeling a little frustrated, have a bit of the overwhelm, maybe feeling a little disorganized in your systems. Should we even talk about systems? And maybe you’re feeling like a bit of a hot mess. All right, it’s okay. So, in the chat, I’d love to hear, I’m going to read some statements here, and I want to know if any of this is resonating with you. Okay?

So you’ve tried to get organized before and you’ve seen some progress but it doesn’t really stick. And then you fall back into the old habit of tackling just what is right in front of you. And then you’re back again to feeling frazzled and overwhelmed. See what’s happening, in the chat over here, yep. So much of this. Okay. So I’m on the right track. This is good. Okay.

So I want you to know that you’re not alone. Everything that I teach within Small Shop Strategies, what I’m going to talk about today is because I have been there and it is important to me that we aren’t just talking about these ideas and theories and strategies without real actionable takeaways. Well, this is still a webinar. I hope that you are able to walk away with some really solid takeaways that will help you feel a little bit better. And you are not alone. Right?

So, over the next 40 minutes, I really hope that I can help you feel a little bit more confident, help you simplify and streamline some of your thoughts, actions, tasks, goals, feel a little bit more organized or, at least, know how to get more organized. And life is still messy, so I’m not going to over promise and underdeliver here. So I’m hoping that you can, you know, at least be like, yeah, a comfortable mess.

Okay. So here is what you are getting yourself into today. Number 1, we’re going to shift your mindset in a way that allows you to plan for results. You’re going to set realistic goals, so checking those tasks off your list every single day gets easier and easier. And then create a strategic action-plan framework. So there is no guesswork in what you need to do, you don’t get to the bottom of your to-do list and be like, “I wonder what I should do now.” No, you know what the next thing that you need to do because you are being strategic. 

Okay. So I want you to sit up straight, whether it’s in your chair, or on the couch, or wherever you are. I want you to put your shoulders back and I want you to take a deep breath. Okay? I want you to breathe in and breathe out. I want you to inhale confidence and exhale doubt. Okay? Over the next couple of slides, I want you to daydream. So if you want to keep your eyes closed, that’s great. Think of this is like a guided meditation. But I want you to daydream for a moment.

So what if you started with the big picture and you had daily priorities and you knew exactly where you were in your action plan? Okay. I want you to take another deep breath for me. What if you stop having to recreate the wheel by having a roadmap and set goals you can accomplish and raise more funds for your organization? 

Another deep breath for me. What if you ditch that constant overwhelm by having the systems in place that will keep you focused on your to-do list and not derail you or feel like you are constantly distracted? And what if you feel good about walking away from your computer, at the end of the day, and not feeling stressed or guilty about the work that you didn’t get accomplished? 

Okay. So another deep breath because I am busting some myths here. There is no magic bullet. There’s no magic bullet. But, over the next couple of slides, I am going to share how you can implement this in your organization so that you can start to feel those things that I was just talking about. 

All right. So here’s a little tough love for you. If you keep acting the same way, you’re going to get the same results. All right, I’m going to say that again, so if you’re doing that multitasking thing, come back to me. Because, if you keep acting the same way, you are going to get the same results.

And this leads me to the first thing that you are overcomplicating, which is the importance of mindset. Oh boy, this is where, you know, that scarcity mindset might come in, “She’s going to go all woo-woo on me.” And while I mind a little bit, I think mindset is a pretty important part of being an executive director.

So this is me in 2010. I was running my very first marathon, the Boston Marathon. And what you might not know from this picture is that, 4 months before this, I had never run more than a 5K. So for those of you who are not familiar with all the numbers that go along with running, I had never run more than three miles. And, on this morning, I was going to run 26. Okay? So over the course of four months, I did all the things. I, you know, followed the training plan and I ate the banana and the bagel before each long run. And I read every single article of “Runner’s World.” Okay? 

I was also running for an organization and it was the first time, for anyone who is familiar with the Boston Marathon, if you’re in Boston, you know how hard it is to get a bib to run this race. And this organization got one bib, and I was their runner. So there was a lot of pressure to raise money and to finish this race. But I will say that the one thing that helped me cross that finish line was I visualized, for the next four months, what it looked like to cross the finish line. What it would look like to run the final leg of that race. What it looked like to go up Heartbreak Hill. What it would look like to go by Boston College. And I visualized every single night, before going to bed, what it looked like to cross that finish line.

So, spoiler alert, I did finish. You’ll notice there’s not many people around me, it was pretty darn slow. But you know what? I finished. And it got hard, got very, very hard around mile like 18. And there were several times that I wanted to stop and I wanted to quit, but I had visualized what it looked like to cross that finish line. And I knew that, if I kept moving forward, one step in front of the other, that I would get there and I would be able to make that a reality.

Okay. So this is where . . . so I’ve been watching a lot of “Alias,” and so there’s always a . . . remember the show from like the early 2000s? Yeah, that one. Where there’s like always somebody getting poisoned and then there’s an antidote that they have to find. So this is your antidote. Shift your mindset to plan for growth. 

Okay. This is how we’re going to do this. So I want you to visualize what you want. I want you to imagine the version of who you are and what you have. So imagine the version of you who has these things. What does it look like to be a productive executive director? What does it look like to be brave and bold and authentic in your leadership? Okay. Then you’ve got to start acting as if you are that version now.

So I want you to ask yourself, if you have the template . . . or, sorry, the workbook then there are some of these questions in here. But what is your success routine? And I say that not . . . you know, I’m a morning person. I know there’s those people who enjoy evening time. I don’t really know what that is like. I’m definitely a morning person. But what is your success routine? What is it that you do that allows you to be successful, that sets you up for success? What are those things in your routine that you know will make sure that you have a better day today or a better day tomorrow? 

And how do you feel each day? So right now you might be feeling that stressed and anxious and overwhelmed but you want to feel that cool, calm, collected. So what do you want to feel? How do you want to feel during the day? And then what tasks in your organization do you do? So are you one of those executive directors who spends a ton of time formatting Excel spreadsheets or are you calling donors and building relationships? What are the tasks that you’re doing? There are no right or wrong answers because we’re going to go into this, but what are the tasks that you should be doing in your organization?

And then how do you spend your free time? I know that I might get a few laughs out of this, I wish I could like, you know, actually see the other side of your computer, but yes, like free time is really good. This is where creativity really comes through. So what do you do in your free time? And for those of you who are parents, like this doesn’t include like when you are being a mom or a dad or a parent or a teacher or whatever that is, what do you do that is just for you?

Okay. And now maybe one of the most important questions, is what you are doing actually raising funds for your organization? Are you actually fundraising? Let me check the chat here. I love this. There’s some good conversation happening in here.

Okay. So here’s the deal. The time is now so you have to start acting and making decisions as if you are that person right now. Okay? Which leads me to You 2.0 or You 2021. So let’s get into some more tactical parts of this. Okay, here’s the mindset shift. So in order to become that next-level version of you, you have to step up in your organization. Remember, if you keep doing the same thing, nothing’s going to change. So if executive director you, who is leveled up, organized, they have systems and they have goals, and they are working on achieving their goals.

So current you might be feeling like, “Not enough time in the day. I’m just trying to get as much as I can done,” you’re working in your organization and not necessarily on moving your mission forward. And you’re not hitting your goals. That’s not a great feeling. But ED You is organized and no knows exactly what needs to be done every single day. And you are informed and you are making strategic and data-driven decisions. You’re working on your organization and you know when it’s time to delegate.

Okay. So leveling up with your organization. Okay, how do you stay organized? Do you have notebooks and post-its and scratch paper and, you know, written on the back of an envelope? How are you keeping all of your information? Do you have a mix of apps and planners and docs? It’s really hard to keep track of all of those different things. And you might be dropping the ball and you might be spending so much time and mental energy just trying to find the information. Or reworking it because you can’t find the actual thing that you worked on and you’re missing those big to-do’s. That was definitely me as a small-shop executive director. Seeing a lot of bullet journaling, Google, Asana. Awesome. Awesome, awesome. Okay.

So organization after, you’re reading my mind, your organization is centralized. And you know exactly what you need to do because everything is in one place. Feels good, right?

Okay. So how do we level up our systems? Systems might be, you’re feeling like, “I’m always trying to remember the next step.” You know, you’ve got these workflows that you do on a regular basis and you’re always trying to remember that, the mental gymnastics that it takes to remember all of those steps is exhausting. And so you’re not working effectively and you’re missing those key steps. And then everything is being done last minute, and you’re in a rush, and you’re not executing properly. And you know you just don’t have enough help in your organization. That’s especially true for the smaller organizations. Okay. But, especially in those small organizations, when you level up, you are starting to template all of your workflows. So those things that you are doing on a regular basis, do them one more time but write down every single step that you take. Because then you never have to worry about missing a step. You can plan your projects ahead of time and actually think through them. I mean how great would that feel? 

And then you have these easy-to-follow systems that then, when the time is right, you can delegate them because they’re written down, they’re documented and you can pass them off.

Okay. So let’s talk about goals. So when we level up our goals . . . I check the . . . awesome, there’s some really good stuff in here for those of you that are in the chat. It’s an air table. Claudia, I love air table. Okay. So leveling up on our goals. So, oftentimes, one of the biggest issues I see with goals is that you don’t take the time to write them down and you definitely aren’t taking the time to create a detailed plan on how to get there. So then you’re feeling scattered and overwhelmed and you know that you’re working towards this. But then there’s no clear data-driven way to accomplish that goal. 

So you want to start with that big picture. Big clear goals. And then you refer back to them often so that, when you’re coming up with that detailed strategic action plan to accomplish them, you know that every single task that you are doing is aligned with making that goal happen. So there is no wafting, “Oh, should we add this?” or, “should we take on this new project?” if it’s not aligned with your goals, it’s very easy to say no and just keep you focused on that path.

Okay. So what can you do today? I want you to identify who is the next-level version of you. Now, I know that it’s very easy to say all these words and think about this. But start to commit to what you want. Because, if what you are already doing isn’t working, then you’ve got to make some changes. And that change starts by identifying what you want and imagining who that next level version of you is.

All right. This leads me to the second thing that you are overcomplicating, which is that super-duper strategic plan that’s going to solve all of your problems. I know, as an executive director, oh, when I was in a small organization, I felt this overwhelming pressure to create this strategic plan. The strategic plan. And, if we’re being honest, I didn’t know how to write one. I didn’t really know what was supposed to go into it and I didn’t know how I was supposed to be strategic. And that’s the thing. It is really hard to be strategic when you are still building the foundation of your organization. It’s hard to put the roof on the house before you have the concrete laid. 

So while I do think that there is a time and a place for a strategic plan, what you might need . . . no, I’m not going to make you do a strategic plan, you might need is to level up with a strategic action plan.

Okay. So let’s talk about how you can do this. So the very first thing that you want to do is identify your annual milestones. So what are those big-picture, big-rock boulder things that you do on a regular basis that you know, year after year, you’re going to do this? So you want to start with that big picture. And, whether that’s development, you know, you know that you’re going to send a year-end appeal, you know that you’re going to participate in Giving Tuesday, you know that you’re going to do a mid-year appeal. Maybe you’re going to send a gratitude valentine to your donors. What are those big-picture items that you do every single year and you want to repeat that for your communication, for your program, for your finances. What are those things that you do every single year? And so you start with this big picture. 

But before you add anything new, I want to remind you to stabilize what is already working in your organization. So I feel like we’ve all had that board member who comes in, you know, we’re trying to figure out how to raise more money within our organization. We’ve got the board member who comes in and is like, “Oh my gosh, did you see that animal-welfare shelter across the street? They raised a million dollars. A million dollars at their gala. And then they went virtual and they raised two million. Amazing, we should totally do that.”

So when that happens, and that is absolutely . . . speaking from experience, when that happens, I want you to take a pause and . . . what’s not always thought about is that that organization is 20-years-old and they have spent the last decade creating this culture of philanthropy with their board members and their donors and their table captains. And they have a staff of 20. If you’re a staff of one or two or three, it’s a very different landscape for you. So focusing on what it is that you know you can do really well, making sure that you’ve got it down, you’ve got your systems in place, you know how you are going to make it happen, and then add something new. 

Oh, I love this, there’s so much good stuff. “Rachel, have you been a fly on the wall on our board meetings?” Oh, I feel like this is just one of those things that happen on board meetings. Because you see something really great happen, it also goes for like trying to go viral, you know, on Instagram. There’s a lot behind it, it’s that iceberg. You know, you see just the tip of the iceberg when really there’s so much more going on.

All right. So I work with executive directors, I have a membership program and I know that I’ve got some of my EDs on here. And this is one of the templates that we use. So it is so simple, it’s a very visual way. This was created in a Google Doc and it’s a very visual way for you to map out your annual plan. So you have each department, you know, whether that’s development, or program, or events, communications, whatever that is, and then mapped out month by month. So you can see, in one glance, just that at a glance look, everything that you are doing in your organization.

Okay. So let’s move on to the next one. Create goals in 90-day increments. So each quarter, I want you to prioritize moving your mission forward with clarity and confidence. And the way that you do this is by identifying your goals and being very clear on what those goals are over the next 90 days. Determining the tasks and the subtasks that go along with it, and then breaking those tasks and those subtasks down, week by week, and putting them into your schedule. And that’s how you get to know exactly what you are doing each week and ensuring that all of those tasks are aligned with reaching those goals.

So, again, this is another template that we use but something that you can totally take and use. But you write out your goal and then what are the tasks that it takes to get this goal done. And then break it down even more into those subtasks.

Okay. And last but not least, I want to make sure that you are setting goals and not tasks. I’m going to double check the chat here. All right. So, Jennifer, those tasks, they’re within the membership program that I have, which we can talk about later.

But, okay. So setting goals and not tasks. So your goals, these are your north star. Goals are your north star. They are guiding you down a path. And if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s really important that we are being realistic about changing course or being flexible or making changes as needed. 

So here’s where I might get into some hot water. I want you to create one to three goals per quarter. We’re going to talk about more about this in a second. And then stay focused on the tasks that align with your goal. So, again, that goes back to, if you have somebody who comes in, it’s like, “Oh my gosh, I have this really great idea. I think that we should start selling greeting cards to raise money for our organization.” And you’re like, “That is a great idea but we are a zoo and that doesn’t necessarily align with our bigger goals.” So then it makes it really easy to be like, “You know what? Great idea, but that’s not where we’re focused right now.” Instead of having to try to fit something in that doesn’t really work because you have kind of vague goals of what you’re trying to accomplish, where you want to have that very crystal-clear goal.

Okay. So one to three goals per quarter, you’re like, “Rachel, we do so much stuff there’s absolutely no way I can have one to three goals.” And I hear you. You are doing a lot of really incredible, incredible stuff in your organization. But remember, you’re on this webinar because you might be feeling overwhelmed and a little chaotic in your organization. So what would happen if you scaled back and you really focused on one to three things per quarter? Because, by doing all of the things, are you actually moving the needle? Are you actually moving your mission forward or are you just kind of inching by? I know it’s scary, but one to three goals per quarter, you can get a lot done with that really focused attention and energy.

Okay. So a little bit more about task versus goal. So a task might sound like, “Send out a year-end appeal.” Totally, like just stick it in the mail, super easy. Okay. But a goal sounds a little bit more like, “Raise $10,000 through a direct mail appeal at year-end,” So it’s much more specific. You know, you are quantifying what you are trying to do then. You know, if you know that you are trying to raise $10,000, then that means that you have to have X number of people that you are mailing to because you know what your donor-retention rate is. You know, you’re able to think a little bit more strategic and data-driven with a goal that looks a little bit more like that.

Okay. So what can you do today? We’re midway through February, but, for the next 90 days, I want you to write out your goals. What do you want to accomplish in the next three months? Okay. This leads me to Number 3, the importance of having systems. Before we jump into that, I’m just going to jump . . . I love it. Okay, you guys are writing a lot and I have to go back and look at these. All right. So you’re definitely overcomplicating the importance of systems. Let’s talk about what this means. “She’s going to say, ‘Oh, what if I get hit by a bus?’” I might say that. Okay. So the antidote for not placing value on your systems is committing to your systems.

So what if you get hit by a bus? Okay, I totally walked into that. I was totally going to say that. What if you get hit by a bus? Or you go on maternity leave? Or a loved one needs full-time care? Or you’re ready to move on from your organization? So ask yourself, could your organization continue to operate if something happened to you tomorrow? For so many of the smaller organizations that I am working with, that is a really harsh reality. And it is not a fun question to ask, it’s not a fun question to answer, and, a lot of times, as an executive director, you hold so much of the organization, just the weight of the organization, on your shoulders.

Okay. So how are we going to do this? So James Clear “Atomic Habits,” it’s an awesome book. The idea of it is that you start small and build momentum. So I want you to think about that one thing today. What is one thing that you do every single day that you could template? I want you to think about something small, something that’s easy to document. I want you to write it out. And, once you’ve mastered that, then you can start something new. But the idea is that you get the ball rolling, that snowball effect. You do one small template of identifying one of your workflows, or your systems, and then you do another, you do another and you build momentum. Because it can be really scary. This can be a really overwhelming thing to have to think about, like, “Oh my gosh, writing down all the things that I do in my organization . . . that’s scary.” That feels like a lot.

And it is. You do a lot. And here’s the deal, you got to prioritize the work up front for that long-term benefit. Because, as I said before, there’s no magic bullet. There is no magic wand. You have to prioritize this work, create the action, or nothing’s going to happen. Yeah, you know, wouldn’t it be lovely if somebody could just download our brains, right? Maybe in the future that is something that can happen. But you’ve got to prioritize the work or nothing’s going to change. Or something’s going to happen, in your organization, and, not only is it going to disrupt maybe your organization, but the beneficiaries of your organization, the volunteers, and the board members and their staff. There are so many people involved in your organization, it’s important that, if something were to happen, that they know how they can, you know, pick up the baton and keep running.

Okay. So last, but not least, is to schedule the time and batch work. This is one of my favorite strategies, as an executive director, is put it in the calendar. So what you need to do, what I have seen works best, is finding the time every single week and consistently working on tasks that will move the mission forward. And taking some of that pressure off, you know, that ton of bricks that’s sitting on your shoulders, start documenting it, so that, if something were to happen, you know that there will be a tomorrow with your organization. Or even if there is a tomorrow, it won’t be so hard on people who need to take over for you. You’ve got to schedule that time every single week. Every week because, if you do, you know, every month and you miss a month, then you’ve gone two months. So every single week. Start small and build that momentum.

Okay. So what you can do today, because I am sure you have so much in your brain, is brain dump those systems and those workflows. Just grab, open a Google doc, and just write down everything that you are thinking about that needs to be a workflow or a system. And then schedule the time in your calendar. Block it off, make sure that your staff knows, your volunteers know, your cat knows that this is what you’re working on. For one hour every single week.

All right. So let’s recap here. So you got to shift your mind for growth. Shift your mindset to plan for growth. Got to level up with a strategic action plan. Then you have to commit to your systems.

And your homework. I want you to identify who is that next-level version of you. Write down the goals. That level up ED, what goals are they going to accomplish? And then I want you to brain dump all of those systems and put it into your schedule to get the work done.

The time to start is right now. Because your work is important. Your work is so important, it’s so important to the organization, to your volunteers, to your staff, to your board members. To you. I know that you are so passionate about your work and you work so hard. But you got to remember that being a nonprofit, it’s a tax status, it’s not a business plan. And being overworked and overwhelmed and systemless and stressed and full of anxiety, like that is not an effective way, or a very fun way, to run an organization. 

And, if you don’t have these three things in place, then it’s very possible that you are leaving thousands and thousands of dollars on the table because you don’t have the right systems in place to ensure that you are building relationships and you are stewarding your donors and you are connecting with them on a regular basis. When you have those systems in place, just watch that money come on in. Right? 

But here’s the deal, there is a lot of pressure that comes with being organized in productivity. And this is not about perfection. Okay? This is not about perfection. And this consistency, showing up week after week to do it over and over again when it’s not very fun, it takes practice. And building your systems take time. This is not something that’s going to happen overnight. Those that have joined my membership program, I think, you know, sometimes they’re like, “Oh, I got to get all of this done.” No, this practice, it takes time. It takes time. It’s meant to be done little bit by little bit in your organization. It’s working on your organization while also working in your organization. 

And I saw this quote, and I cannot remember where it is from, but, “If you improve yourself by just 1% every single day, after a year, you’ll be 37 times better.” I love that. You can always continue to improve. And also having a community like this with Bloomerang where you have so many resources is absolutely crucial to your success. So use this community. And I am totally rooting for you. I’ve been in your shoes and I know how hard you work. And I want you to be so successful.

All right. Steven, you want to come on back, do some questions?

Steven: I’m back. I was just sitting here basking in your pep talk. So I’m bummed that the hour is almost at an end. I was sitting here, Rachel, just thinking, “Man, I wish we were all together in person.” I know we can’t be, but someday soon. But I think it would’ve been a lot of fun too. But hey, this is almost as good. So thanks for doing this, Rach. It’s always fun. It’s always a sunshine to listen to you for an hour.

So we got a little bit of time for questions. Maybe five minutes or so. So ask them, if you haven’t done so already. I won’t play favorites, I swear, but we probably won’t get to all of them because I see a lot in here already. But shout out to the membership group. I mean, if you want a daily . . . almost daily, I guess, pep talk from Rachel, sign up. Get her newsletter. I always like seeing that hit my inbox because there’s usually a funny story or something cathartic in it. So connect with her.

A couple people who have asked about putting out fires, Rachel. I know we could probably do a whole hour on that but what’s your take on that?

Rachel: So, of course, we would love to live in a world where fires don’t happen but that is absolutely a reality of our organizations. And so you have a couple ways that you can look at this. One, is this actually a fire or are you just so amped up, always going, going, going, and never having a chance to stop and really think through your decisions and that everything feels like a fire or a disaster? So that’s number one.

And number two is, when something does happen, like there’s absolutely going to be . . . I don’t know, like, you know, a pandemic coming over your organization that you kind of have to stop everything and think through it, yeah. But the thing is, if you have your goals in place, then go and you deal with the fire. And then, because you’ve created these goals, you have the strategic action plan, then you know exactly where to go back to. You know exactly where you are in your plan and where you are on your to-do list so that you aren’t just like, “Okay, what do I do now?” You know that because you’ve already made that plan.

So I’m not naive to think that those don’t happen within our organizations, because they do happen all the time. And there’s also the idea of a buffer, like don’t have 17 things on your list for a day, have 3. So that, if things come up, you can handle them and then you aren’t always feeling like you are running behind.

Steven: It makes sense, I love that. Speaking of task lists and things like that, any other systems you like, Rachel? I know you mentioned things like Asana and maybe, you know, Dropbox, but have you got any other cool tools in your toolkit that maybe people don’t know about or you think fly under the radar?

Rachel: Yeah. So I actually just started a podcast, it’s called “The Productive Executive Director.” Shocking. But, not next week but the week after, I am doing an entire episode on stealing my systems, I think it’s a list of 10 or 15 things that I use all of the time. One of the number one things is getting yourself a project-management system. And number two is making sure that you have a donor-management system. Funny that we’re here. Totally, I love Bloomerang and I think that, even as small organizations, figuring out how to make that happen is really, really important. 

I am all about scheduling things. So any way that you can automate stuff, I’m into that. So, you know, I use PLANOLY for my Instagram and I use SmarterQueue to like repurpose blogs or content that I just know need to be out there all the time, so I don’t have to rewrite them. And then Google Suite just has like all the things. So really learn how to use your email and Google Docs and Google Forms and all the Google things.

Steven: I swear I did not know about the podcast. That was not a canned question that we were planning, but that was an awesome response, “Oh, I’m doing podcasts on that.” So I put the link in there, Rachel.

Rachel: And if you’re part of the membership, it’s actually an entire lesson. I list them all out and I give you links. I make it super easy for you, so . . . 

Steven: I love it. Maybe a good way to end it, Rach, is the board. You know, we haven’t talked too much about it but I’m curious if you have any tips for maybe leaning on the board for some of this stuff, either, you know, actually assigning tasks to them or just getting buy-in on stuff. What’s been something you’ve seen maybe work or not work with the board?

Rachel: So a couple of things. First, you want to figure out like every small organization. Every organization wants their board to be these like rock stars. But, really looking inside, like are you preparing them and are you giving them what they really need? So are you equipping them with the mission statement? And not just the mission statement but like the true organizational story so that they can have their elevator pitch, they can talk to somebody and be like, “Oh yeah, I’m part of this organization because . . . “ 

And then figuring out what their superpower is. So not every donor is going to want to write thank-you notes, not every donor is going to want to call donors, but you might have a board member who, you know, has another superpower. So finding out what that is and really embracing that, so as much as . . . yes, I think you should absolutely lean on your board, but you’re going to get really frustrated if you’re trying to lean on them in not the most efficient or effective ways.

Steven: Not empowering them is kind of what I’m hearing you say too.

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely.

Steven: It’s like, “Hey, you write a blog post,” and you give them a blank slate. And it’s like . . . 

Rachel: Yeah, and they’re like, “I don’t know what to do.”

Steven: That makes sense. Yeah, you got to be a little proactive, give them some help and they’ll help you. Jeez, this was, this flew by, I wish we could keep hanging out and talking. But I know you live on a working farm, so you probably have a couple other things to do. Some folks may know that about Rachel. But where can people find out about you? I know we didn’t get all the questions, and I’m sorry for that, but . . . 

Rachel: Yeah. No, well, send me the questions. I will try to . . . if you’ve got a very specific question, like shoot me an email. And I know it’s not on here. It’s Shoot me an email, shoot me your question, I will try to answer as many of them as I can. But I’m on Instagram, that’s where I hang out. I think I’m pretty funny, so, you know, I offer some good tips. But I’m on Instagram, I am on LinkedIn, and I’m on Twitter @rachelbearbower. So, yeah, I’m kind of everywhere but I hang out on Instagram for the most part.

Steven: Pretty easy to find, in general?

Rachel: Yeah.

Steven: People can find you. Well, this was so much fun. Thanks for doing this, Rachel. I know you’re busy. And I think we have like 400 people in here. So that was awesome to have so many. Yeah, I know it’s a busy time of year, you know, end of the week. So, yeah, thanks for all of you for being here.

I’m going to pull on over to one slide. I just want to let folks know about the webinar we have coming up next week. Hopefully, you can see this. But nice session, dovetailing from Rachel’s. We’re going to talk about digital wellness. Yeah, this is going to be a really cool one. I got a sneak peek at the slides here this week. So if maybe that’s something you struggle with, maybe information overload. Maybe if you’re like me, doing a little too much doom scrolling, that’s my advice. And maybe some of you can relate to that. A lot of times, these webinars are for me and everybody else gets to benefit from it. That’s kind of how I choose topics. But join us 2:00 p.m. next Thursday. So almost same time, same place, about an hour earlier than this session. But totally free. We’re going to record it, if you can’t make it. Register anyway, even if you know you can’t make it because we’ll get you the recording.

And speaking of recordings, we’re going to send out the recording of this. Just give me about an hour or so that’ll hit your inbox. You’ll get the slides. It’ll have all Rachel’s goodies in there. And, hopefully, we can keep the conversation going.

So we’ll call it a day there. Like I said, look for an email from me. Have a good rest of your Thursday and a good weekend. Happy Valentine’s Day, if you’re celebrating. But most importantly, stay warm, stay healthy. We need all of you out in the world. So, you know, keep going, we all believe in you. Stay productive. And, hopefully, we’ll talk to you again next week. See you.

Rachel: Bye.

Kristen Hay
Kristen Hay
Kristen Hay

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