I love opening the mail at this time of year. Mixed into the catalogues, bills and junk mail are loving cards from family and friends with adorable pictures and holiday wishes that always make me smile. They also remind me of the first time we decided to send a holiday card…
If you read my emails you know I’m a planner. So when my husband wanted to send out holiday cards I pulled out my computer and made a timeline of everything we needed to do and by when to get the cards out on time. I love to plan like this. I find these timelines are key to my success. Over the years I’ve shared this super simple idea with friends and clients and who have told me it has dramatically changed their lives for the better. So today, I’m going to share it with you.
As you think about the year ahead and all that you want to achieve, I encourage you to create a timeline for every fundraising activity. I find that’s key to success. A timeline allows you to:
- Manage deadlines effectively
- Determine who is owning each aspect of a given activity or initiative
- Consider what is realistic
- Maximize efficiency
Your timeline becomes your roadmap to success. It keeps you on track, keeps all parties accountable and helps make sure you don’t forget important steps along the way. By doing the strategic thinking upfront, you’ll then be able to execute on the timeline to seamlessly navigate from point A to point B.
My goal is to make your life easier. That’s why I’m walking you though how to create and use a timeline, your roadmap to accomplishing the task without having to think too hard.
- Start at the end – What do you aim to achieve? What does success look like? Try to identify this as specifically as possible. By when does this need to be completed?
- Create a list of components – If #1 is your goal, what does it entail? Are there multiple pieces of mail that need to go out? Is there a list that will ultimately get compiled or food that needs to be ordered? Do you need to contract with a vendor or outside expert? What are the steps that need to be taken or tasks that need to be completed to achieve your end result?
- Assign some general dates – If you know that you’ll be sending a piece of mail, and you know your printer requires 2 weeks to turn around a mailing, jot down that information. Use this to determine when you need to send the mailing to the printer. If you know that your caterer needs the final meal count a week before your event, jot that down and use that date to determine your RSVP deadline.
- Fill in the blanks – Now that you have some landmarks, work backward to fill in the blanks. For complex projects, I like to think in terms of categories. For example, if you’re planning an event you may want to think about your timeline in terms of communications (save the date, invitation, e-communications), sponsorship (material creation, prospect list development, solicitations) and more. I find that it’s easiest to create a mini timeline for each category and then merge all of those timelines together. You can break down almost any event by category to home in on the specifics and fill in the blanks you left out in steps #2-3.
- Calendar time – If you don’t have an old school desk calendar, this might be your chance to buy one. Start working backward from each of your benchmarks from #3 so that you can safely meet those deadlines. Is it starting to feel more real? Expert tip: Build in buffers. Something will inevitably take longer than you think whether it’s getting approval, needing an extra round of edits, or something else coming up that needs your attention. Building in buffers is a great way to proactively account for these items so that you won’t fall behind.
- Utilize your team – This is probably my favorite step… assign team members to own each line of this timeline. I’m talking every task, not just the big things. Who will pull the list from your database? Who will draft the agenda for your board meeting? Who will send the follow-up email? Remember, this does not all have to fall on you!
- Review, revise, reassess – Take a step back. Or maybe even hit save and come back to the timeline in the morning. This is the time to evaluate what’s realistic and what might need to be tweaked. Did you end up with too much falling in one week? Does your office close for special holidays where your deadlines ended up? Do you have other big projects that will interfere with certain times of this? All of these issues are completely normal and make for an important conversation among your team to determine what’s doable.
Once you feel good about your timeline, it’s time to use it. Remember that a timeline is a guide for what should be done when. Of course, things change and deadlines shift, and that’s totally normal. Having a plan keeps us on track to achieve our goals. The best thing you can do for yourself is to go with what you laid out. Give it a try and see where it takes you – you just might cross the finish line more seamlessly than you imagined.
In this week’s freebie, I’m sharing a sample timeline that will help put these steps into practice for you. Click below to see how I recommend documenting each of the details and tracking your progress.