Multitasking is Make Believe

By Deborah Crocker

How many times have you seen multitasking listed as a skill on a resume? Or what about hearing the interview question, “Are you a good multitasker?” For me, it feels like a million times. Yet despite its success at positioning itself as a sought-after value (and forever validated by the fact that no one wants to say they’re bad at it), let’s be clear:  multitasking is make believe! It’s literally not possible for the human brain to do (Read this scientific debunking of the myth of multitasking).  So let’s stop this nonsense!

As a development professional, being detail oriented while managing multiple projects simultaneously is mandatory. But this is very different from the idea of multitasking. We are doing nonprofit professionals a great disservice by asking them to be multitasking geniuses. When people try to do numerous tasks at the same time, accidents occur. Like the time my team printed out a gala invitation that cost $5,000 and it didn’t have the date on it. We were “multitasking.” Then there was the time I submitted a full six-figure grant proposal to a foundation but failed to provide the budget . . . oops, multitasking. Or the time a colleague listed one of the nonprofit’s largest donors as deceased on an annual report . . . again, multitasking. 

Instead of listing  “multitasking” on a job opportunity as a requirement, it should say “focused, detailed oriented, and conscientious.”

Multitasking is the equivalent of making mistakes. What people really need help with is learning to manage multiple activities, and more specifically, how to focus on one task at a time. This seems simple enough, but we are living in a world of constant distractions, and people have become accustomed to information coming at them nonstop. By learning how to focus on one task at a time—and to do it well—once a task is done, we can check it off our list and move on to the next.

Here are four steps to set you on a non-multitasking but highly focused work week: 

  1. Start by making a list of your top three priorities for the week.  Look at them daily to keep yourself on track. You’ll feel a great deal of satisfaction when you check them off at the end of the week.
  1. Turn off your desktop notifications when you are trying to get something done. Oh the distractions! They are never ending, so shut them down.
  1. Make space on your calendar for the big tasks—writing a proposal or a letter to a donor— you need to make space to get these things done well. They will not happen magically.
  1. Utilize a 24-hour rule of communication. You do not need to respond to people within minutes of their outreach. But you do need to respond within 24 hours, even if it’s a quick “I got your email. Thank you! I’ll be in touch by the end of the week with a response.” Obviously there are exceptions to this rule—like your boss—but the point is to keep you focused on your task rather than being distracted by another one. And honestly, even people in your exception group can wait an hour or more. 

So give yourself a break. Stop trying to achieve the impossible. You are not a great multitasker. But you could be a great, detailed oriented, conscientious worker—which might be a mouthful but it is so much more effective.

Stay focused. And stop multitasking (it’s make believe!).


Process to Practice

How to Get Things Done

As a former dancer, I spent much of my life in a dance studio honing my skills. My job was to show up and be prepared to practice. I had to make sure my body and mind were ready for the day, no matter what was thrown at me. During this time, I didn’t give much thought to what was happening behind the scenes. I didn’t think about all that administrators were doing to make sure there was a place for the rehearsal, a pianist to play, a choreographer to create, not to mention an entire production team. I simply knew what my part was—to show up and be ready to practice. 

I entered the nonprofit world as an administrator because I had woken up to the reality of what was happening behind the scenes. It wasn’t easy, and I wanted to support the administrative work that made everything else possible. I wanted to do what was necessary to make sure a nonprofit’s mission would be a reality. And as I dug into nonprofit work, I quickly realized that what was happening behind the scenes was its own elaborate dance.

At times, it seems nearly impossible that nonprofits are able to get anything done. So many obstacles stand in the way—from lack of funding and personnel shortages to space issues, and of course there’s never enough time. And because resources are scarce, the only way anything gets done is because of the endless extra hours (and heart) nonprofit workers give to their jobs. Due to the norm of running on empty, the most fundamental work can be brushed aside—as in the behind the scenes infrastructure. For fundraising, this includes creating a thoughtful development plan, having a major gift pipeline that you work through weekly, developing an acknowledgement and retention plan, and maintaining a working database. Many nonprofits just don’t seem to have the capacity to put all of these vital plans and processes in place. But without them, it’s really hard to grow and thrive. 

So as a consultant, I work on infrastructure and processes with organizations first and foremost. We figure out what is missing and create it. Then we work on implementation. Whether it is the latest project management software, a simple spreadsheet, or constant nagging from me, I help my clients focus on the tasks at hand and keep the important, and sometimes boring, stuff from falling to the wayside. 

For many nonprofit organizations, this strategy works brilliantly. But not always, which made me wonder, what do I need to do differently? How do I get people to change their habits to get things done? How do I get an executive director with 10,000 things on their plate (seriously 10,000 things) to stop and look at their prospect list and make phone calls? And why are some directors able to do this but others aren’t? 

Then I remembered my dancer self in the studio. Practice. I practiced. I didn’t become a successful dancer because of the infrastructure and processes surrounding me. I became a dancer because there were processes in place to support me, and I practiced.  

All of the processes and project management tools in the world are useless—unless you have a practice in place to do the work. 

It’s like any new thing in your life. You have to make it a habit, which takes time. We can’t change everything overnight. But you need to take the time to think about your practice. Take a step back, look at your day, and think about what you wish you had accomplished and didn’t. Think about how you are using your time and where you might be able to create some space. And then, take a deep breath, and commit to doing it the next day, and then the next day, and then the next.

A commonly cited 2009 study published by the European Journal of Social Psychology found that “it takes 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit. The study also concluded that, on average, it takes 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.” (

I started 2022 with a commitment to changing a number of habits in my own life (including writing my blog!).  I’m on day 24 and feeling positive. I am remembering my dancer self, and practicing my way to day 66. Because once you have both the practice and processes in place, your work will be successful, rewarding and meaningful to those you serve—which is ultimately what every nonprofit advocate is trying to achieve.

Keep up the practice.

Deborah Crocker


Curiosity and the Fundraiser

I have a niece who is four years old, very adorable and quite curious. We were on the phone recently and our conversation included her asking me “Why?” at the end of every sentence. Besides being reminded of how much fun four year olds are during the “why” stage, this exchange reminded me of how important it is to be curious in our work. 

Great fundraisers are curious creatures! They ask questions about donors. They ask donors questions! They prioritize having a deep understanding about their cause, as well as why people choose to give. 

With this information in hand, they create inspired giving opportunities—especially with major gift work. For example, if you suddenly have an urgent capital need that requires fast fundraising, it’s a lot easier to accomplish if you know that your dedicated donor, Steve, has told you he likes supporting capital projects. Or if you are a food bank that is starting a new community garden, and you remember a donor you spoke to who loves urban gardening . . . wouldn’t they be a great prospect for this project? Yes!

75% of your time as a fundraiser is spent—or should be spent—building relationships, just like you would with any new friend (donors are people too!). By asking questions, you learn about people’s lives, businesses, other organizations, history, and much, much more—you too are gaining knowledge and insights not just about a supporter but from a supporter. You are respecting what they have to offer. So take the time to get to know the person giving to your organization and when the time is right,  ask them the golden question, “Why do you choose to give to X-nonprofit?” and follow with something like, “What would you like to see X-nonprofit do next?” The answers to these questions are invaluable. Now you know why a donor gives, as well as what excites them about the work you do. And by the way, your donors appreciate these questions. People like to be asked about things they care about.

When it’s time to ask the big questions, prepare carefully. Think through how the conversation might flow and write down your plan. You can even do some role playing with a colleague to get ready for the meeting. Most importantly, be ready to listen. Giving a person your full attention will make a huge difference in how much they reveal about themselves. 

Lastly, always funnel some of your curiosity towards behind-the-scenes research too. Whether you have a wealth screening tool, Board member intel, or good ol’ Google—be curious and dig in to learn more about the person making a gift to your organization. Then take all of this information and spend time connecting the dots and taking note. With this knowledge, you will raise more money for the mission you care about most, and it will be a rewarding experience for you, your organization and the person making the gift. 

Keep being curious.


Five Steps to Your Best Year End Giving Campaign EVER

By Deborah Crocker

It’s time to roll out your best end of year annual giving campaign EVER. 

Ensuring a viable future for your nonprofit may be tied to how much money you can raise by December 31, 2020. While this is a daunting predicament, it is not an impossible achievement. With a pandemic, and with the economy in a major slump, people are still giving, and some are giving more than ever. 

Consider what type of requests you will send and when, how will you utilize #GivingTuesday, and how your Board and volunteers can support these efforts. Once you have a solid timeline with your activities in order, make sure to include these five steps in your planning:

  1. Set an aggressive benchmark for December 31 towards your overall annual giving. If you raise $500,000 a year from individual donors, I recommend raising at least 75% of the total goal by December. While people are still giving right now, we don’t know what 2021 will look like. Get your donations secured early.
  2. Create a campaign message for this year-end appeal work and stick to it! Let people know how much you need to raise and how you are progressing towards that goal. Always 
  3. Take the time to write notes. People are 75% more likely to give when you write a personal note..
  4. Segment your lists and personalize your requests. For example, “Thank you so much for your gift of $150 last year. Will you consider a gift of $200 this year?” People forget how much they give all the time! Make giving as easy as possible for your donors.
  5. Establish stewardship activities that are timely and personal. The sure way to lose a donor is not to thank them promptly, so always prioritize your stewardship and acknowledgement plans. Remember, it’s much easier to retain a donor than to find a new one!

I am in awe of the dedication, commitment, creativity and pure gusto that nonprofit administrators have shown us over the past six months. It’s made it more clear than ever that people choose to work in the nonprofit industry because they want to serve a mission and to make the world a better place. The pandemic has not stopped people from giving back to your cause. Give your donors the opportunity to support you and they will give back. 


Three Wishes for Philanthropy: Post pandemic

As the days of this pandemic roll on, I am spending time helping organizations craft messages about COVID 19 and how the virus is impacting their programming. Each message is unique to each nonprofit, but the one idea that appears consistently is the hope for a time when communities can come back together and fully embrace their missions in the way they had intended. This hope for a brighter future has led me to think about philanthropy in a post pandemic world—and some positive outcome this situation could have on the larger philanthropic landscape. 

Wish #1: More General Operating Support

During this crisis it’s been extremely encouraging to see foundations step up to support nonprofits. By responding early they are setting the stage for individuals, government, and corporations to follow. Some foundations have worked with peers to develop COVID 19 emergency funds, and  others are fast tracking donations to get cash to nonprofits sooner. The most compelling step I have seen taken is foundations releasing grantees from restrictive guidelines and allowing them to use their grant awards for general operating expenses. 

Nonprofits are always looking to increase their general operating income. Yet in the pre-pandemic days, the majority of foundations gave very limited general operating gifts. More often, grants were restricted to specific programs, timing, and expenses, and then you were allowed to tack on 15% of administrative costs (aka General Operating Expenses).

I understand why foundations put parameters on grants, but during these past five years I have witnessed an incredible uptake in the hoops that nonprofits must jump through to receiving funding. Through their actions during this crisis, however, foundations basically said, “We believe in your mission and we want you to survive this crisis. We value your work, therefore, we will support your most vital needs.” I love this stance, and my wish for the post pandemic world is for this sentiment and ensuing action to continue well beyond this crisis. To simplify application procedures and to develop a grant process that is truly about engaging with a nonprofits work and championing their dreams and visions through general operating gifts—this is a future I would like to see. 

Wish #2: Unapologetic Reserve Funds

Nonprofit organizations should create operating models that are prepared for crises. It’s time to change how nonprofits operate. We need nonprofits to be set up for survival under duress. How many nonprofits were prepared to function for three months without income? Without doing extensive research, I believe it’s fair to say that very few organizations were prepared. So why can’t nonprofits unapologetically fundraise for reserve funds? And why not have foundations lead the way with this?  Why not consider having foundations allocate part of their grants to a reserve fund? This is my second wish—reserve funds built into a nonprofit’s budget and supported by institutional funders.

Wish #3: Corporations Step Up

This is something we have been wanting to see for quite some time. Corporations make up the smallest portion of giving in the United States compared to individuals, foundations, and bequests. And since the 2008 downturn, this trend has not improved. At this moment in our history when the entire world is digging deep to support those in need, my wish is for the large corporations across this country to step up and make some meaningful contributions to the nonprofit sector—not through corporate tax breaks, but by sharing their profits for the good of the communities they work in. While the economy is suffering, there are still many large companies that are profiting, and this is their chance to share the burden the nonprofit sector is experiencing, and prop them up for a brighter future. 


Essential and Non-essential Nonprofits

By Deborah Crocker

After a career as a professional dancer, I became an arts administrator so I could keep performing arts companies from folding the way that some of the companies I danced for had. Though my work has expanded to other nonprofit fields, for many years I raised money primarily in the arts. I  am dedicated to supporting the arts to ensure we live in a culturally rich, diverse, and educated community. But when the COVID 19 virus came, I must admit that a voice in my head said, “Those things aren’t as important right now. People are sick, and need basic necessities to survive. That’s where help should be prioritized right now.”

So how do we balance the desire to support the nonprofits that are “essential” while making sure the “non-essential” are still here when we get through this pandemic?  

The essentials of the now are inarguably the most pressing needs of the moment. But those nonprofits, like the arts, deemed “non essential” in the face of an existential threat, are essential for our future.

Beyond the economic impact of your activities and the number of people you employ, your nonprofit serves an important purpose, and your request for support is vital to its existence. It all comes down to making the right request to the right people. I have witnessed a number of “essential and non-essential” nonprofits receive increased donations these past few weeks due to their thoughtful engagement messages, innovative virtual communications, and “soft” ask for support,  but there is likely a need to take your fundraising a step further. 

Your request right now should be just as unique as your mission. Here are some critical things to consider when building a campaign to support your nonprofit during this crisis;

  1. Create an uplifting and clear message for your campaign. Do not sugarcoat the situation, but make sure you are telling people that you need their support now because you plan on being here in the future! People should know that you are forging ahead and creating a path towards a brighter tomorrow. 
  1. Identify a current need and communicate it. Your campaign will most likely fund part of your general operating budget, something every nonprofit needs right now. So the question becomes, what do you need the most?  Salaries for staff? Increased funds for necessary supplies? By making your request specific, it will convey operational information about your organization, which will bring people further into your organization and let them know exactly how they are helping.  
  1. A specific ask will have more impact.  Figure  out how much you really need and share that goal. When doing a personal one-on-one request, give donors a number to consider. (I’ve never had someone get mad at me for asking for a gift that was out of their range.)
  1. Enlist your biggest supporters to champion your plan first. Before going public with your campaign, connect with your board members and most loyal donors and ask them to give towards the campaign to help launch it successfully. Having their support early on will encourage others to give, and it will strengthen your community by keeping them invested in the importance of your nonprofit.
  1. Develop a solid plan to back up your campaign.
    • Plan a timeline for requests using different communications channels.
    • Be creative with how you ask. Utilize video messages and live streaming opportunities. (But make sure the lighting is complimentary!)
    • Establish financial milestones, and share with your donors when you achieve them.
  1. Create a meaningful acknowledgement strategy. These donors have stepped up in one of the most important moments in your history. Let them know how much that means to you. 

The key right now is to stay focused on your mission. And remember, for those whose mission might not be considered “essential” at the moment, they are essential to what we look forward to once we weather the storm. 


Fundraising: What’s ok to do right now?

By Deborah Crocker

March 18, 2020

It is an uncertain time, to say the least. For nonprofits, it makes an already delicate business model that much more unstable. 

I have spoken to a number of nonprofit leaders over the past week, and one question that comes up time and time again is,  “Should we ask for support right now?”

All nonprofits need support right now so of course you need to be thinking about this. From social service organizations that are providing the most basic needs to individuals to arts organizations that create a thriving culture in our cities, they all need help right now. So the question really becomes when to request support, how to ask for support, and what to do before you ask for support. I think that last part is critical, and doing it well will set your nonprofit up for the best chance at success. 

Everyone is in a panic, and you have every right to be in a panic as well, but you also need to think long term. What will be the overall effect of this crisis on this organization? And more optimistically, what can we do now to keep our mission alive and ready to thrive in better times? If you run out and ask blindly for support, your message will get lost in the crowd. So I recommend taking the following steps first:

  1. Create a Communications Strategy: Empathy should be fully present in all of your communications right now. Reach out to your donors and community to let them know how you are taking care of your staff, how you are prioritizing your services, and what you are doing during this difficult time. I recommend weekly emails and/or social media posts. This doesn’t have to be full of details, because you probably don’t have many details in this day-to-day situation. It’s just a general check in to give them an idea of what your nonprofit is doing during this time and to send them well wishes. As this situation progresses, you can let them know about the financial toll this is taking on your nonprofit. 

** Remember, you can’t ask people for donations before engaging them in a meaningful way. You know you will need to ask for their support so do this important engagement work now!

  1. Prioritize personal check ins: Call and check in with your most loyal supporters and prioritize by age. Who is elderly and might feel really lonely and isolated right now? Call them. Let them know you care.
  1. Develop plans for the short term: This is the hard part, but you need to start asking the “what if” questions. What if we don’t have any new income for three months? What if we can’t make payroll? Ask these questions, and then brainstorm solutions. What type of virtual fundraiser might work once this situation calms? How might you ask vendors to spread out payments? How might your board members and volunteers be able to pitch in? How might your landlord or bank support your need for more time for payments? As hard as some of these questions are, it will feel better to get them out there and start coming up with options. 
  1. Clean up your infrastructure:  This is a time to do all of that database clean-up that has been on the back burner! Prepare your fund development infrastructure for when things start getting back on track!
  1. Connect with other nonprofits: Reach out to your peers and connect with others in the field. You are all in this together and there might be some ways to weather this storm together. I foresee partnerships between like minded nonprofits being key in an organization’s ability to move forward. 

Once you are actively taking these steps, and as you gain new information, you will be ready to go to your donors and make a meaningful request for support—a request that will both resonate with your donors and fully support your mission for the long term.