Making the most of your first 90 days on the job

‘Tis the time of year when development folk are on the move. If you’re among the thousands of fundraisers stepping into a new position (or if you know someone who fits this bill), here are a few tips for making the most of those critical first 90 days on the job.

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A FEW DO NOT’S

Don’t bad mouth your predecessor. You’ll come off as a nicer person (and nice is what I assume you are) by focusing on the good work done by the person you’re replacing. If you truly can’t find anything to praise, then say nothing at all. Remember, someday you’ll be the former development officer. Talk about the one who came before the way you will want the one who comes after to talk about you.

Don’t over promise on what you can deliver. Of course you want to impress your new boss. And it’s tempting to strut your development know-how in front of new colleagues. But rein in the bravado. Painting an overly rosy picture of what you can deliver will come back to bite you. Until you get the lay of this new land, better to project modestly and then surprise.

Don’t take on the database. Never mind if you’ve inherited a cobbled together Excel spreadsheet. Precious hours spent fretting over a database are hours you’re not doing what you were hired to do – raising money. Three or more months down the road, you’ll have a better sense of what you need in a relationship management system. In the meantime, I’m betting you can squeeze enough useful information out of the existing donor files to keep you busy until then.

NOW FOR THE DO’S

Do get out of the office as soon as possible. Face it. You’ll never know everything you wish you knew about the organization, its work, and its donors. So, as they say over at Nike, just do it. Pick out a handful of loyal supporters and schedule visits. You’ll learn more talking with longtime friends of the organization than flipping through files in your office.

Do write a plan for the year. You’ve got a lot on your plate and that can overwhelm. Outlining your work for the year (that’s what a plan is) helps separate the must do’s from the would-be-nice and not-necessary items. Planning also encourages pacing. I think of Jim Collins’ and Morton Hansen’s principle of the “20-mile march.” The best plans assume steady, manageable progress toward the year’s goal – week in and week out, no excuses.

Do chat with folks in the know. Block out time on your calendar for conversations with program staff. Spend an afternoon a month working alongside volunteers. Meet beneficiaries of the organization’s programs or services. Within weeks, you’ll have amassed an amazing cache of stories about God’s good work through the organization. And if you ask each person with whom you talk what they would say to a potential donor, you’ll come away with a robust case for support.

Do find a traveling companion. If you’ve been in development work for a while, you know it’s a lonely business. And if you’re a newcomer to fundraising, you’ll soon feel the loneliness. Seek out someone with whom you can share the small triumphs of everyday generosity, as well as the big win. Someone who’ll be there with an encouraging word when things get tough. The ideal traveling companion may be just down the hall or across town in another ministry development office. The important thing is that you have someone along for the journey.

Do take time for your soul. Beyond the loneliness, or perhaps because of it, fundraising is spiritually draining work. The relentless chase of one year’s out-sized goals after another can cut into quiet time with God in prayer and reading the Word. For those who view the work of fundraising as ministry, it is just as important to give attention to spiritual fitness as to one’s physical or professional condition. It’s okay – in fact, essential – to take time for soul care.

What do’s, don’ts, or other advice would you add to my list? Please share the wisdom you’ve gained on the job, from supervising development staff, or as a donor who’s benefited from the ministry of a Christ-centered fundraiser. Others will thank you for sharing.

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