In addition to being obsessed about the donor experience, the other essential ingredient to nonprofit success in transformation are efforts that are focused. It must be recognized, when you are obsessed with your donor, that you can’t do everything. If you think you can, disaster is looming around the corner. You can do a few things very well.
Strategy is about deciding which ideas should be implemented. Focus is doing them. Focus is not about swinging at every pitch. Focus is about swinging at the pitches that are most likely to get you on base or to advance another player so they can score.
It’s not a big surprise that big league baseball players can hit a pitch far better than the rest of us. Research on the game’s best hitters has shown that they have excellent hand-eye coordination and can respond quickly to visual cues. Indeed, one of the keys to a superior ball player’s performance is excellent vision and focus that allow him to see a baseball perfectly as it travels at high velocity toward home plate.
Baseball players who have achieved greatness at the plate have done so by persistently keeping their eyes on the goal at hand: connecting with the ball.
Entrepreneurs must likewise keep their eyes and focus on their company. They achieve greatness by avoiding any situations that might distract them. As such, they must constantly and tightly fix their vision on the most important components of the enterprise.
Wanting to accomplish everything you think needs to be fixed for the donor experience isn’t useful. Strategy is about tradeoffs. What will make a difference in the next 6 months for your donors? If you could only focus on 3 things, what would they be? 3 may be too many still but it is better than 5 or 10 or 20 or 100.
Everything can’t be done. A few critical things can be done. What are the right ones to focus on right now?
As an aside, a culture of meetings and over collaboration can suck the life out of focus. People need to be given permission to say no to meetings that are of marginal value to their real focus areas. In fact, nonprofit leaders could greatly benefit from much fewer meetings and a lot less collaboration.
Not making a decision about priorities for the donor experience is the enemy of focus. When meetings do occur, one outcome should always be about how important, relative to other priorities, the initiative being discussed is relative to other strategies that will benefit the donor experience. Forcing a delay of something else to do the new thing should be question that is always asked. If you live in a world of focus, the question should be, of the 3 things I am focused on right now, which of them should I stop doing so I can take this on? People should be given permission and encouraged to ask these questions. Management should be clear in requiring it be done.
What if you had an accountability culture that said that your year end evaluation would be determined by one result that would be worth 80 percent of your evaluation? What would that one thing be? What if that allowed you to veto other things without formally changing your evaluation criteria to take the new thing on?
Greg McKeowan has written an amazing book, “Essentialism, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”, that lays out the necessity of focus. As he so aptly has discovered, focus is about getting the right things done. In this world, the essential question is: What is the right thing to do right now?
The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s not about getting less done. It’s about getting only the right things done. It’s about challenging the core assumption of ‘we can have it all’ and ‘I have to do everything’ and replacing it with the pursuit of ‘the right thing, in the right way, at the right time’. It’s about regaining control of our own choices about where to spend our time and energies instead of giving others implicit permission to choose for us.
- Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin?
- Do you sometimes feel overworked and underutilized?
- Do you feel motion sickness instead of momentum?
- Does your day sometimes get hijacked by someone else’s agenda?
- Have you ever said “yes” simply to please and then resented it?
If you answered yes to any of these, the way out is the Way of the Essentialist.
Focus allows you to see things clearly as your donor actually does. It also allows you to see what is working and what isn’t for a great donor experience. If you are doing a lot of things, which ones are working? If something is working for the donor, what if you did more of it and not less.
The only way to do more is to do less. It will require going counter to what others want to do. Everyone, including your boss, wants you to do more. Let’s add one more thing to the plate. It is rare that leaders want to stop doing something or think before asking you to do more. Focus will require results that justify doing less. That is the rub.
Focus is your responsibility and yours alone. No one can do it to you. No one can do it for you. Accountability for focus is all yours. If you are a manager, you should help others understand why they need to focus. They will be relieved and give you their all because of your leadership.
Focus is needed at every level of the organization. Everyone needs to spend time to stop trying to do everything. Management, in particular, needs to support this approach.
What if nonprofit management doesn’t support this approach? You can proceed anyway. The question is will you have the courage to do it. It will take courage. Are you confident?
There is a need to understand constraints. Constraints are real. Everyone knows it but we all like to pretend when we start a project that if we make the case, resources aren’t going to be an issue. Resources are an issue. Resources will always be an issue.
We need to be clear about what should be invested and how much time is available to get the job done. It is easy to live in a world where we “pretend” the amount of hours available to work on something isn’t an issue and that constraints don’t exist. They do exist, they are real and not confronting it head on will hold you back.
We believe that if we demand that requirements be added to the work, the money and time to get it done will magically appear. The reality is that they won’t magically appear but failure will not so magically appear.
Focus is amazing. Doing the few “right things” can bring about real transformation in becoming a digital nonprofit.
Here are the key ideas:
- Be clear about constraints of money and time to get things done.
- Narrow the list of things to get done to no more than 3 over the next 6 months.
- Be strategic and make choices.
- Give people permission to say no.
- Give people permission, when there is a new idea, to ask which of the current priorities will be placed on hold to take this on.
- Recognize the constraints of time and money up front.