Patrick Kirby tells you how to organize the chaos of fundraising

Episode aired March 2, 2022: Wearing All the Hats

Fundraisers wear a thousand hats and have a million tasks to do. Fundraising smartie and coach Patrick Kirby of Do Good Better Consulting knows all about it- and wants to help you organize the chaos of fundraising. In this episode Patrick discusses 

  • Why the sector has a “too many hats” problem
  • The 20-minute plan to organize your hats and tasks
  • How to say no to a boss who wants to add tasks
  • Time to organize the chaos of raising money and   
  • Why “we’ve always done it this way” is hazardous to fundraising.       

Below you can listen, watch or read this podcast episode.

Ephraim: Welcome to this edition of Your Weekly Dose of Nonprofit Podcast, the podcast that delivers actionable items you can implement at your organization right away. I’m your host Ephraim Gopin of 1832 Communications. Today I’m really happy to have with us a nonprofit, marketing, fundraising smartie who’s also a coach and public speaker, Patrick Kirby. Patrick, how you doing today?

Patrick: I’m better now that I had that intro. So I appreciate you for that.  

Ephraim: Excellent. Let’s introduce you now to our listeners, watchers and readers.

Patrick Kirby is the founder of Do Good Better Consulting, author of the Amazon bestseller Fundraise Awesomer: A Practical Guide to Staying Sane While Doing Good, host of the official Do Good Better Podcast and a believer that “we’ve always done it this way” is the most dangerous phrase in the English language. Patrick has spent nearly two decades working as a fundraiser in the nonprofit industry for organizations of all shapes and sizes, most notably as the senior director of development at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the chief development officer at the Ann Carlson Center based in Jamestown, North Dakota.

He earned his BA in bs, i.e. politics, at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa and is hopelessly addicted to super nerdy, sci-fi fantasy novels and old-school Nintendo games. Patrick married out of his league to his wife Shannon, has three ridiculously adorable children named Spencer, Preston and Willow, a puppy named Calvin and lives in West Fargo, North Dakota.

The ‘Too Many Hats’ Problem

In today’s episode we’re going to discuss fundraisers and wearing all the hats. Let’s dive right in. Patrick, in general terms, why does the nonprofit sector have a ‘too many hats’ problem?

Patrick: Because the ones who can do it all will and that the organizations that hire people with this affinity for doing a lot of things great and they don’t give a lot of support in more bodies but require one to do more things. So it’s this massive problem of both fielding and hiring amazing rock stars but also the horrible reality that those rock stars are then required to do all of the things because they’re good at it. They don’t say no and “if they don’t get it done who else will” is the mentality that people have had over the years.

Now that’s super dangerous. It’s awesome, it’s awesome you can do that but it’s super dangerous because it gets away from the real reason why you were hired in the first place: To raise money, which is to build better relationships with donors and if you get distracted by the smaller things, you dropped the ball on the most important things, which is reaching out, having conversations, building better rapport and then eventually yes, asking for money.

Prioritizing Tasks

Ephraim: Excellent excellent answer.  So to follow up on that, once we know that sector staff are wearing all the  hats, let’s go to today’s actionable item. Please share with us three to four tips that you would share with the fundraiser on how they can prioritize their 10,000 hats and tasks.

Patrick: I’m gonna give you five but I’m gonna do it in the speed which is three. How about that!

This has been a question that I’ve been asked a lot, wrote a book about the actual topic, which is how to organize yourself in just either 20 minute or 40-minute increments a day. So don’t think of this on how to get rid of the 10,000 hats thing by just eliminating it all and don’t think that you have to spend five, six, seven hours doing one thing in order to move the needle forward. You can compartmentalize this into little chunks, so at the end of the week you look back and go huh, I actually did accomplish something that I can track and how I’ve broken it out too.

I hope that this resonates with your audience as well, as it’s resonated with the ones that I get to speak in front of, which is you do one thing a day every day of the week for 20 minutes. On Mondays you plan. On Tuesdays you execute. On Wednesdays you document. On Thursday you celebrate and on Friday you spend time showing gratitude and appreciation. What I mean by that is on Monday, figure out what the one or two things that you need to accomplish by the end of the week. That’s your priority and everything leads to that road.  

On Tuesday it’s the most productive day of the week. I have no scientific proof of this. I just assume, if you’ve been planning everything that you did on Monday, now you get to execute. Make your ask, make your solicitation, have that meeting, have that conversation with the important donor that you want to engage at your nonprofit. Do it on a Tuesday. You’ve already planned for it. Do it on a Tuesday.

Once you have that awesome conversation, you probably talked about a bunch of different fun things. Well take time to get all that information out of your head and on paper or a cocktail napkin or a fancy CRM system. Document the living bejesus out of it because you can’t remember everything. It’s a superpower that we think we have but we never do and then Thursday, find time to celebrate a win. If you don’t remind yourself of the good work that you do, burnout is a natural next step. Take some time to either celebrate with your coworkers or a donor or a sponsor or yourself. Realize what you do matters and celebrate a win.

And then finally spend time on Friday saying thank you. No, you don’t have to just say thank you to people who gave you money. Everybody’s expected to do that or you won’t get any additional revenue. Spend time saying thank you to people who’ve made an impact on your organization, who’ve made an impact on your life, to other organizations who are doing great work. That’s a fun thing that you probably didn’t think about. Be the organization that says I appreciate all the hard work that you’ve put into the community and then when you’re done, on Monday when you’re trying to plan to meet with some of those awesome donors, the last thing that they remember was an authentic awesome thank you note, whether it was handwritten or text message or anything in between. You didn’t thank them just for money, so now they’re intrigued to pick up your phone call, so that you can go back to the whole framework all over again. That is how I would organize my life if I had 10,000 things to do because I have 10,000 things to do and that’s how I organize my life.

Saying No To A Boss

Ephraim: That is one heck of an awesome planner. Thank you. I love that. How do you tell fundraisers you coach to deal with the following situation: The boss asks you to take on another hat, another job, another task. How can fundraisers tell their boss no in a way that’s respectful but also makes it clear that demand is unreasonable?

Patrick: This is such a fantastic question by the way and I think everybody who is in the fundraising world has experienced this at least once. It’s a slippery slope, right? Because hey, can you go do this small thing? The minute you say yes to that, all of a sudden the medium size and the large thing gets added to your plate as well.

How I would approach this and how I approached this with my bosses back in the day, how I like people to approach me as we’re sort of working together is: Hey, I appreciate that you can rely on me to do said task. If I could get five minutes of your time to lay out what I have going on and I just would like your help in prioritizing what I’m doing, in order to fit this request in. I have raising money and reaching out to donors as my number one and two priority because that’s kind of what we have to do. Does this task that you’re asking me to do supersede reaching out to donors, having conversations, building more revenue and if it’s the case, I will totally do that.

But I just want to let you know that that other stuff that we were talking about- raising money, raising funds, having conversations, reaching out- is going to take a back seat to what you’re requesting and if that’s what you would like, I can totally do that. I just want to hear from you that that’s where you are prioritizing my time and this gets you out of every expectation that they have. because they’ve told you verbatim that going and making a social media post for 48 minutes instead of making phone calls is more important to them.

So they can never come back to you and say, why didn’t you do this? Because you told me that this was more valuable than spending time on the phone with our donors. That is a nice, soft way of approaching it. Once you lay that out, it’s not you’re not doing this to be obtuse. You’re just doing this because you’re trying to gain perspective from I need this stuff done that’s outside of your scope of work and they will then realize very quickly oh no no no, this isn’t on your plate.

Organize The Chaos Of Raising Money

Ephraim: Excellent. Love that. Let’s forget all the hats for just a second and concentrate specifically on fundraising, which on its own has a million buckets. How do you teach fundraisers to quote “organize the chaos of raising money” as you call it?

Patrick: I would take baby steps, not giant leaps, right? So you’ve got events, you’ve got annual gifts. You’ve got all these kind of things. Think about what you can do in the moment to help move the needle forward. You’ve got a ton of different things. what’s your best ROI? Is your best use of time sitting around for five hours deciding the verbiage of a social media post? Or is your time better spent in the field figuring out who to meet with or going into the database and organizing and prioritizing the donors in order of what they are?

Think about where your time is best spent and then spend the time there. Do you are you a very quick writer? Can you write 800 words in less than an hour and it sounds really good and it flows? If not, don’t spend your time doing that, right? Spend your time doing things that are going to build value for those that you are serving, build value to your donors and concentrate on those things first, because you’re good at it. You can get it done right away. You can count that and chalk that up as a win and then you go back to the buckets and see where your value is sitting.

Think about and audit your own events. How much time does it take to run a golf tournament and how much money do you make on that? If you spend 120 hours of your work in the office putting on a golf tournament that raises you six thousand dollars, I guarantee you that that’s not a great piece of ROI. Do the math. How many hours did you spend? How much money did you raise? Net, not gross. Think about that and then do the math. How much time, energy and effort did you spend per hour on what that dollar raised was? And I bet if you picked up the phone and you called somebody and had three or four conversations, you’d raise more money that way than you would spending a whole bunch of time after you’ve analyzed it.

“We’ve Always Done It This Way”

Ephraim: Fantastic. On your website you quote you’re a believer that “we’ve always done it this way” is the most dangerous phrase in the English language. Why is that phrase hazardous to fundraising activities?

Patrick: Because there is a sense of laziness to it and there is a sense of resistance to figuring out a better way, that’s better for your time. The old guard- and again, I’m part of the old guard. My God, I’ve been around for 20 years doing fundraising.

That is way old in the fundraising realm but there’s always a better way to do things and if the default answer is always we’ve always done it that way, look out. Now, if they give good reasons, because it is working and it is traditionally a great upward trajectory, slow but steady pace thing that works, that’s not the same than a dismissive version of well, we’ve always done it that way. I don’t want you to mess with it because I’m fearful that I’m not going to give value or my value is degraded by some sort of thing. So there’s two different versions of that.

What I’m obsessed about is eliminating the immediate response that’s not open to a better and easier way, both for your mental health and for your actual time spent in the office. Especially time spent out of the office. If somebody says well, we’ve always done it this way, we’ve always just sat behind our desk and made phone calls and never met with anybody, okay? No, no. Red flags all around, right?

If your time is best spent in front of people but the default is you know that we’re scared of what you’re going to talk about or how much time you’re going to spend out of the office, we need you behind your desk. Don’t! Push back on that because that’s going to make your nonprofit a better, more fluid and more easily adaptable group in the fundraising realm. Because everybody else is, so you better keep up that way? Never get stuck in the immediate response of we’ve always done it that way.

Let’s Learn More About Patrick

Ephraim: Love that answer and I hope everybody listening, just listen to Patrick and then do what he says. I’m just going to leave it at that but he’s 100 percent correct. Let’s move on to the lightning round and learn more about you. What got you started on your nonprofit career path?

Patrick: I got a politics degree as you mentioned in the bio, which meant I was unemployed after college. I got a random call from my old high school who was looking for a person to do alumni events and fundraising and I had no prospects and I said yes. So like many of us in the nonprofit world, I fell ass backwards into being a fundraiser and that’s how I got started.

Ephraim: I love it. So given your two decades plus of experience, if you could shake up one thing in the nonprofit world, what would it be?

Patrick: Board of directors who concentrate on the wrong things and I would actually spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get board of directors to be more professional in their approach to things. It’s not their fault nobody trains and nobody teaches boards to stay out of day-to-day operations and live in the how can we help push the mission forward? It is the one thing that I could change was, don’t nitpick on what the cost of a golf ball at this thing. Concentrate on how you can open the doors to your own rolodex and your world and that’s where you need to stay. If I could just shake it up, that would be my mission.

Ephraim: Excellent. Patrick, why North Dakota?

Patrick: My wife was from North Dakota, therefore I’m in North Dakota.  

Ephraim: A very direct, straight answer.

Patrick: That’s a lightning round for you.

Ephraim: There you go. Let’s go a little old school. What’s your favorite original Nintendo game?

Patrick: Favorite original Nintendo game is the Legend of Zelda. Favorite Super Nintendo game is Final Fantasy 6, which just came out on the mobile. They re-pixelated it and that’s what I have on my phone and I cannot believe that I am accomplishing anything because I just downloaded it today and it’s amazing.  

Ephraim: I love how excited you are about this. Another thing you’re excited about, you’re hopelessly addicted to super nerdy sci-fi and fantasy novels. How did that get started?

Patrick: So people always ask me what books are you reading on fundraising? What books are you reading on marketing? I don’t. I don’t read any of them because I find that the storytelling that you learn from Tolkien and George R. Martin and all these wonderful fantasy writers are really good for fundraising and really good for marketing. You get to teach how to paint a picture. You get to build worlds together, right?

And if you’re a fundraiser and you’re sitting next to somebody trying to vision out what their gift is going to do, what better way than to craft these wonderful stories than to learn from the masters who are making up stuff as they go along and building worlds? That’s what you’re doing as a fundraiser. You are living in this wonderful fantasy that they get to help you fulfill, so why not read from the best of the best? That’s kind of how I’m obsessed with them. Also I like dragons and swords and magic because I play D&D too which makes me the super nerd of all the things.

Ephraim: Awesome. Lastly let’s turn the table. You get to ask me any question you want. I have no idea what’s coming. Go ahead.  

Patrick: What is the most annoying thing that you see in newsletters going out for donors?  

Ephraim: A massive drop of information. We’re just throwing as much as we can into every newsletter as possible because we have so much going on and we want to tell everybody everything. So why not just send? If it’s email, just send an email and make sure you include 17 different articles and things happening and if it’s a printed newsletter, at least eight pages, if not 16 or 24 and just throw everything as much as you can in there because we’ll all pick and choose what we want to read and then… Yeah, that’s annoying and it’s not effective and it doesn’t work and it brings you no ROI. It doesn’t build relationships. It doesn’t do anything. But otherwise, great idea guys! I’m totally against it. There. Does that answer the question?

Patrick: I love it. Your sass about this is as wonderful as I remember it and as  appreciative as I can be to share that message with others.

Ephraim: Excellent. Patrick, thanks very very much for appearing on the podcast. I encourage everyone to connect with Patrick one on LinkedIn and learn more about his work on his website Patrick, it was a pleasure learning from you today. Thank you.

Patrick: You are the absolute best my friend. Thanks for having me.

Ephraim: Have a good day.

Patrick: You too.