Many advancement shops today are overwhelmed by workplace overload. Too many prospects, projects, meetings, next steps, data points, and directives (on top of staff turnover and pressure to raise funds amid rising costs in education) result in a sense of constant craziness. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated many of these challenges. Remote work and hybrid arrangements allow for flexibility but can also create disconnection or confusion as teams adjust.
Finding focus is an essential step to deal with the distress that overwhelming environments can create. But you cannot force focus. Instead, recognizing the drivers for overload and dealing with them mindfully and structurally can give you the tools to overcome overload.
We have been exploring the issue of focus in the advancement field for the past several years, through different lenses. Michael is a seasoned mindfulness meditation practitioner and teacher who leads advancement systems at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, U.S. Chris is a consultant with the Zuri Group, who’s constantly on the go visiting leading advancement shops across the U.S. and advising them on operational and management strategies. For our book, Focused Fundraising: How to Raise Your Sights and Overcome Overload, we researched challenges with focus in advancement through industry surveys, individual interviews, and our direct experiences in the field.
We have found four central culprits of distraction: meetings, media, management, and messages. Too many meetings, too much (time on) social media, too many undisciplined managers, and too many text, email, and instant messages tax our mental health. It can be tough to keep up. Fortunately, there are individual and organizational mindfulness tactics to address each of the “4 Ms.”
For individuals, mindfulness techniques can decrease mental load and allow more time for your important work. For organizations, a team can establish rules that diminish the noise. Adopting great governance and maturing as a focused fundraising organization will facilitate even more focus across your organization. Overload is not going away nor are these ever-present stimuli—but there are tools to tame it.