Another Productivity Secret: Do NOTHING

Ellen Bristol

July 17, 2019

About the Author

Ellen Bristol

Ellen Bristol, President of Bristol Strategy Group, is a nonprofit thought leader in fundraising effectiveness and nonprofit management optimization. She has a passion for helping small to medium sized nonprofit organizations, NGO’s, and social enterprises build and grow fundraising capacity, adapting classic principles of the process-management discipline to this all-important strategic function.

I first published this post back in the glory days of July 2019. Remember way back then, before the Covid pandemic changed our lives so dramatically??

It occurs to me that the need for us to relax and regroup is greater than ever. Ever since March 2020, some of us have stayed home and thrived; some stayed home and suffered; some – many – had to go to work regardless of threats to health and safety.

The end of the lockdown meant we emerged into a world where things we used to take for granted just aren’t there, or the same. 

I think the need for real downtime – leisure – rest, relaxation, and recovery – is greater than ever. It’s a strange time.

In July 2019, I too a two-week vacation, where I did nothing. In my favorite spot on earth, Sebago Lake, Maine, I napped, and I slept, and I ate lobster and went swimming and hung out with my family, but mostly I did nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing. It was glorious. After I got back, I found myself able to think about and start executing  important projects to improve BSG’s impact, stuff I couldn’t focus on before I

Ever since the start of the pandemic, I have tried to take at least one full week each year to do as close to nothing as possible. Not quite so easy to do when you’re stuck in your house full time, but still possible! (Plus I painted my living room.)

When’s the last time you did nothing? Vu Le’s blog from July 15 2019 provided some hilarious “definitions” of nonprofit professionals’ vacations.  I laughed my head off, and you will too.

But there’s something serious in the notion of actually doing nothing, and it has to do with maintaining and improving your fundraising productivity.

First of all, you really need the rest. Most of us are sleep-deprived, which makes it twice as hard to be productive at work. When you’re tired, not only are you more likely to get sick, you’re also more likely to make stupid mistakes. It takes twice as long to get things done. Then you feel even worse.

Second, tired people simply do not have the energy to do the strategic work of productivity. Strategic work plugs the leaks in your fundraising bucket, but it’s hard work, and it takes time.

When you’re tired – even though you might not realize it – you will focus more on the onslaught of daily interruptions and administrivia, and ignore the difficult work of analyzing results and selecting improvement initiatives. Continuous improvement of productivity relies on this type of analysis, which requires a ton of hard brain-work. When you’re tired, forget it.

If you haven’t taken a real vacation in a while, and you can’t realistically get away from it all, let me suggest a few things:

  1. Take mini-vacations.  I don’t care what time of year it is. Take off at noon on Friday, or come in at noon on Monday. Maybe take them both. Tell you supervisor I said so.
  2. Take a nap. Figure out how to take a nap on a weekday!
  3. Don’t work on the weekend. Or at least don’t work ONE DAY of the weekend.
  4. If you’re Jewish, honor the Sabbath – no work, no emails, no texts, no phone calls from sundown Friday until an hour after sundown Saturday. If you’re not Jewish, borrow that tradition (you’re allowed to apply it to any day you prefer).
  5. Tell everybody you’re taking a “do-nothing” break and you advise them to take one themselves. Then shut your door, or go out to your car, and stare into space for 15 to 30 minutes.  Don’t text, don’t call your buddy, don’t read emails. 

Raising the productivity of your fundraising operations is supremely important. Highly productive fundraising operations are the ones that acquire high-potential donors regularly, retain and upgrade the majority of those donors. Acquire new followers, subscribers, and low-dollar investors through annual-fund tactics like events and online campaigns. Use technology to manage these as much as possible, so nobody gets bogged down in the details. 

Getting predictable, consistent fundraising growth requires rested brains and clear thinking.

What a contrary concept. Work less, and raise more.

Oh, I forgot. That’s our slogan.

If you would like to identify other ways to improve fundraising productivity, complete the Leaky Bucket Assessment for Effective Fundraising.

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