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Outsourcing Donor Relations? A thought on a post from 2012…

7 years ago I was discussing outsourcing. I want you to know I still feel the same way.

By Lynne Wester

I thought that headline might draw you in. Often, when I am at conferences or consulting for folks, I hear a common thread, "I just don't have time for those innovative, new ideas." When I dig deeper an find out why, I discover many donor relations folks are mired with tasks and the act of doing, rather than being able to lift their heads up and strategize for the future.

I have shared this common problem since I started my work in donor relations as a one-woman shop. Donor relations folks by their nature are a wee bit controlling. (Ahem, understatement of the century.) So how do we begin to let go and make strategic decisions about outsourcing some of our work, not just to vendors, but to others on our team?

So here's the plan for you:

Step 1: For every task and item that you do, you need to figure out how much it costs, not just fiscally but in human hours and time. How much does it cost you hourly? Calculate your hourly rate, the one you're supposed to work, not actual hours. I did that once and figured out it was around $3 an hour... But my real rate based on my 40 hour workweek is something we calculate into all of our efforts. Where is my time best spent? What are the things I'm really good at (some of you will say everything, of course, because we're perfectionists too) but how long did it take you to get it perfect?

For example, I'm a pretty good whiz technologically and have mastered most of Excel. However, if I want to make my data-rich spreadsheet print pretty and look divine, I could spend hours. Instead, I give that to a staff member who—in 10 minutes or so—has me looking brilliant and completely competent to leadership by producing the best looking, easily readable spreadsheets you have ever seen. Boy, do I have them fooled. It's about identifying talents and optimizing time.

Step 2: Understand the things you cannot and will not ever outsource. This has changed dramatically since 2012. Now shops are easily outsourcing their variable data printing, including endowment reports and other mass communications. You shouldn't be stuck stuffing envelopes for days! The same rings true with video content and delivery—we now have technology like ThankView and others to help us.

Step 3: Find amazing partners. I'm not just talking about vendors here folks. Recently I was on a campus and heard about how they wanted to digitally catalog all of their named spaces and plaques for posterity. Brilliant plan, one I did at Rollins that won a CASE award. But you know what? I didn't go photograph and document them all. I hired student interns to do the project. My student interns, although fiscally unpaid, were paid in leftover food, experience, and reference letters. They, in turn, were able to help with invaluable projects that would require me to be out of the office too much or were too overwhelming to accomplish.

The same goes for vendors. Some of the best relationships I have built with them was when I relied on their skills and expertise to help me out. Freelance graphic designers and writers can help clear up clogs in communications processes and provide added creativity- check out my fave, Tyler at Wessel Creative.

Step 4: Make others take responsibility for their work. Donor relations folks are the ones that can never seem to set boundaries and say no. That's why we end up ordering tchotchkes for alumni relations, catering for staff retreats, writing hand written notes for development officers that are calligraphically challenged, and sheriff badges for AVPs (that's another story). Instead, we should spend our time building strategy and plans for implementation, then teaching other departments how to fish.

An example: build together with your annual giving department a plan for annual giving stewardship. Put all of the pieces in place and let them execute the plan. You are involved and supportive, but not overburdened by the tasks, instead, you can build strategies that are donor-centric and responsible uses of your time.

I hope I have given you some tips and techniques for outsourcing some of your daily burdens. It's about how we can work smarter and be more strategic, not showing everyone how busy we are with tasks. Leadership respects vision and strategy, not long lists of to dos. I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas! What have you outsourced lately that has worked?




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