Defining Success

A few weeks ago I attended a conference where Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post gave a keynote address. She gave the attendees many things to think about –in business, marketing and life – but one idea that struck a chord with me was about, “defining success according to what is important to us.”

Since this is a fundraising article, I will keep the focus on how this affects work.

All too often, we spend too much time treading water or putting out fires, only to realize we have not achieved our goals for the week, the month or even the year. We are left feeling defeated by the massive workload. If we believe in Ms. Huffington’s theory, the real question is what would make us feel successful? Or, more specifically, what is important to you as a staff member, volunteer or as an organization.

The laundry list of possibilities
For most nonprofits (and probably a good deal of for-profits), there is a never-ending list of changes, updates, and improvements that should be made to the building, the staff, the mission, the fundraising, the finances, the structure, etc. – you know what I mean. Ideally, we prioritize our resources to accomplish our goals. But, with the wish list of what we could do on one side of a page, we all too often look at the flip side of the page – our accomplishments. It is easy to forget that we should feel good about what we have done – no matter how much more needs to accomplished in the overall plan.

Let’s stop defining success as having achieved all of our goals (utterly impossible) and start defining our success by what we have deemed important and then accomplished (empowering).

Defining what is important
If you are a list maker (as I am) and there are 8 tasks* that you want to check off for this month, you are, by your nature saying those are the 8 most important parts of your job in the next month and you would consider yourself successful if you completed them. If you are not a list maker, consider how you plan out your week. It is essential to sit down to define a successful week/month/year and accept that, in all likelihood, you will not accomplish any tasks that are not on this list.

The unplanned
People say that they spend so much time with the unplanned parts of their jobs: the donors who stop by and want to chat, the fires that need to be put out, the help you need to offer a colleague, that they are constantly falling behind on what they hoped to achieve. I suspect many of you are nodding your heads in agreement.

Then acknowledge that as a part of your reality. Look at your work week for the last few weeks, months or years and consider the average time that you allotted to these “extra” efforts and then allot a certain percentage of your week to these events. Consider whether the needs change with the calendar or are steady all year-round.

Staying afloat cannot provide you with any measure of success beyond the knowledge that you didn’t drown. But, feeling successful can be the difference between satisfaction and frustration. Make sure you are making conscious decisions about your success – in business, marketing and life.

*If you want some examples of tasks you might consider these: make one extra stewardship move per day, engage with one potential new board member, revisit the prospect research to consider who should be engaged in a more meaningful way, or get home for dinner with the family at least three times per week