Temporarily Fixing Fiscal Year-End Deadlines at Nonprofits

I ran into a friend this morning who works at a development department for one of the local universities. When I asked her how she was, she said, “Stressed. I have until June 30th to reach out to 1,700 donors. I guess I won’t be sleeping much.” Whether the lack of sleep will be caused by working around the clock or the stress of the overwhelming job in front of her, is irrelevant. And the truth is, she is not alone.

End of fiscal year-end deadlines at nonprofits bring stress to many development shops. Any meeting that had been pushed off in recent months is now essential during this time crunch. And donors who have said they weren’t quite ready earlier in the year are now being nudged harder than either party would like. What’s a nonprofit to do? Think temporary.

Even if you could work 24 hours a day, you still won’t be able to track, meet, email, thank, and answer the questions of 1,700 prospective donors for your annual fund in three weeks. Create a list of tasks that are repetitive and time-consuming so that temporary employees will have to question less and be able to succeed more.

Hire temp workers to help do the paperwork. There is no time to interview, no time to train and no time to think too hard about how to get it all done. But is there really any way you could achieve your goal with your current staff?   Temp agencies have highly qualified people who are not currently working full time. Be specific in your skill requirements and see what you might be able to offload for the next few weeks.

Not sure about an agency? Call a former employee who left on good terms. Maybe he/she became a stay-at-home parent or wanted a change of scenery. Many people will jump at the chance to earn extra money doing something they know without the long-term commitment.

Re-divide and conquer
If there are 1,700 donors to be contacted, it is probably not one person’s sole responsibility. But it can feel that way. Other people in the office are probably feeling the same way you are. Have a brief meeting (who has time for a long one?) to see if you can pool resources and temporarily redistribute tasks. Consider whether less multitasking may offer better results. Perhaps two junior people can focus on follow up calls to donors below a certain level, the three assistants can handle all of the documentation once a gift has been made including emails and notes that are often handled by the others, and one person can focus on scheduling for the whole office.

This is not a long-term strategy. Nonprofits should want to help employees learn and grow within their positions and this would cause boredom and unhappiness in short order. But, as they say, desperate times require desperate measures.

What else can you do?
At a place as large as a university, not everyone is focused on the annual fund or fiscal year. Consider calling human resources and see if they have any suggestions. You don’t want to spend too much time tracking down help, but more people to help the nonprofit may be the key to your success. And human resources may be able to reallocate staff. Allowing you to achieve your goals.

And, what about next year at this time
Is there a way to avoid this annual crunch at the end of the fiscal year? Probably not, as it is the donor who decides when he or she is ready to commit. But, maybe preparations for crunch-time can be made in the quiet days of summer so that the stress is relieved and productivity is achieved.

Don’t worry! The end is in sight—only 20 days to go as I write these words.