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Hey there, friend!
Happy year-end campaign season! You are almost there, but also probably panicking a little bit right now. Go ahead, breathe. I see you. I know, and you know, there are only a few weeks left; and yet, this time of year is rough.
Tis’ the season that the workload becomes nearly unmanageable. While you are in the middle of executing campaigns with unreasonable expectations, you are also responsible for building the strategy, identifying and stewarding multiple levels of giving prospects, recording the necessary data into your donor database, executing a perfect “thank you” process – oh! and building long-term relationships with your donors.
At the same time, your role is hybrid, so you are writing every letter, email, and social media post. You are designing or overseeing every graphic or image used throughout the campaign. This is happening in the middle of budget season, grant reporting, wrapping up that fall event, and various program marketing initiatives. Every day, a great snowfall of new emails with marketing requests blankets your inbox, while also dreading the inevitable task of identifying from where 2022 funding will come.
Let’s start with this statement: Your workload is unmanageable.
It is likely that no one else in your organization understands just how so. People believe they understand marketing because they have their own social media accounts. Facebook and Instagram can’t be that hard… right? Furthermore, they asked their friends and family to donate to the organization, and it worked! Is fundraising really more than that?
Let’s follow up with this statement: Your work is hard, specific and requires a lot of strategic thinking.
I spent most of my career in various versions of a hybrid marketing and development position. Throughout that time I felt a lot of angst I couldn’t specifically name, and I struggled to advocate for myself and my teams, which made me feel like I was constantly failing – even when we were raising a lot of money and reaching a broad audience.
Now, in my position as a consultant for dozens of organizations, it’s clear to me that the issues were not specific to me, but barriers placed into the structure of this hybrid role. The marketing and development coordinator is one of the most misunderstood positions in the nonprofit space. And yet, the success of your role is essential for the success of the organization. While the position poses some challenges, it’s also incredibly rewarding and with some clear boundaries and reasonable expectations, the workload can be more manageable.
Below are some tips to help you survive this busy season and set yourself up for success in 2022:
Make Time to Plan
I know this seems crazy in the wake of all that is on your plate. I’m not suggesting you halt all work for an extended period of time, dump thousands of dollars or hundreds of hours into A & B testing, or even necessarily engage a wide swath of your organization in naming marketing and development priorities. However, what I do know is that hybrid roles quickly become responsive as opposed to proactive when there is not a clearly articulated (but flexible) plan.
Each quarter, I set aside two, non-consecutive days where I block off all meetings and trap myself in my office with endless coffee and snacks to reflect and plan.
At the beginning of each year, I like to start by laying out a project plan. For fund development that looks like a development project plan that outlines the various campaigns, the potential for dollars raised, the roles and responsibilities for each person involved, and the tasks required to make it successful.
With marketing, I begin by first building a calendar for all the activities happening throughout the year and from there build a rolling 90-day content calendar.
(Note: I like to begin with the tools provided within Nonprofit Marketing Guide’s Editorial Calendar Toolkit and Hubspot social media content calendar template and then adapt them to meet my specific needs. There are hundreds of free content planning templates available online. Find what works for you).
Each subsequent quarter, I spend my non-meeting day reflecting on what worked in the previous quarter, what needs to be adjusted and building out the components of the plan to bring it to life.
Within a hybrid role, there is always a tension between your boundaries and your workload. You are just one person doing the job of at least two people. By the nature of the position, you are overcommitted.
Some workplaces and/or the individuals within may engage in a culture that perpetuates a sense of urgency more than others. And yet, you are still struggling to get what you need. While the work and urgency might not be going anywhere, there are ways to advocate for respected boundaries simply by sharing and honoring your own and your colleagues’. Check out Permission Granted: Setting Boundaries with Your Time for tips and tricks on how to navigate this difficult challenge.
Identify Your Allies and Partners
While you might be the only – or one of a few – staff members focused on marketing and fund development in your office, it’s unlikely that you are the only one with skills to lend to the work of marketing and fund development. You also have the unique benefit of working with almost everyone in the organization by the nature of your role.
Take time to identify people’s strengths and interests in supporting the marketing and fund development work at your organization and then make space for them to do so. Perhaps the office manager would be willing and interested in copy editing emails before they go out, or the program officer could support some grant writing. Maybe the associate in the office next to yours would be willing to handwrite a thank you note or two or work registration at your next fundraising event.
Similarly, consider opportunities for volunteers to engage in marketing. Do you have volunteers who would help take pictures, find auction items, or possibly share their authentic stories if they are impacted by your mission?
Self and Communal Care
Your work is hard and you might look around your office and realize everyone is struggling. It is important that you and your colleagues take care of each other and yourselves. For me, self and communal care look like therapy, yoga, cooking (or feeding), and doing something that serves others.
I’m a huge advocate for therapy as an essential building block for career success. We all have histories and mental health challenges that will benefit from talking with a professional.
Additionally, I think it’s important to move your body. Grab a co-worker and take a walk at lunch. Sign up for yoga class before or after work. Find a space for you to release your tension and stop your focus on work.
Turn off your email and take an hour to cook an elaborate and healthy meal. Double the recipe and take the leftovers to work to share with others.
Finally, I am most stressed when I am thinking too much about myself. It’s important that on a regular basis, I pause and reach out to a friend that needs me, check in on a neighbor that is suffering, or volunteer for an organization I care about.
In the end, you need to find what works for you. You are human, you are whole, and you are doing the work of multiple positions. Your boundaries (and advocacy for them) may not only make your job more sustainable but will also model the necessary culture shifts and self-care that need to take place for the next generation.
Your fellow stressed, tired, and learning marketing and development person.
Ann Fisher-Jackson is the Chief of Staff at Gladiator Consulting in St. Louis, MO. Tapping into 10 years of communication leadership experience, Ann helps Gladiator clients define who they are, reach their target audience, and grow their donor base. She combines a deep commitment to improving her community with her gift of organizational and communication strategy. She loves to look outside the box and consider how other industries or organizations might solve the same problem.
To learn more about Ann, check out her bio.