I have been to 17 AFP fundraising conferences! 17!
It always happened at the busiest time in the fundraising calendar. I would come back so rejuvenated in my profession, equipped with sharp tricks of the trade, and more passion for my cause.
...and then. I went back to the office. Back to the demands of reality, the little time-sucks that distracted the most diligent of type a's, and back to the searing pressure to raise even more money.
Every year, I wanted to come back and be the new She-ra: Princess of Power, but what I got instead was She-blah: Princess of Duh. I would get back on the same vicious cycle of anxiety, firefighting, and ninety to nothing dashes on the fundraising infinity loop.
It wasn't until the last several years that I discovered this pattern was not anyone's fault but mine. Yes, there are always extenuating circumstances that can derail the best of us, but ultimately I was to blame for falling right back in the traps of life.
I decided I needed a new and fireproof plan to descend back into the workplace with my new awesome fundraising magic and sorcery I learned at the AFP conference.
Here is what I started doing:
I changed my expectations
I was the worst at thinking everything would go as planned with no interruptions. Old me: My unrealistic plan (all cooked up in my head) was to go straight to my office and shut the door. Work, work, work and barely look at anyone. Then all work would get done quicker. Phone calls, emails, every proposal, all sponsorship packets, and the development budget would be completed by lunch, and I would have the rest of the day to think about the conference. NOT REALITY.
So, I decided I needed to change that up.
First day back: I arrived at the office. I was realistic and reminded myself that co-workers are donors, too, and they need to be appreciated - after all, they didn't get to go to the "fancy" conference, and who appreciates the person who goes straight to the office with an "I'm so behind and important because I've been to a fancy conference face". I decided I would take the first hour and give them a treat from the hotel or airport, catch up, and let them know I missed them. I would thank them for keeping things going while I was gone, and tell them a couple of cool things that I saw or heard at the conference. I would set an alarm on my phone and even tell them - "not gonna steal a lot of your time, but I wanted to check in."
I took control of my time
I entered my office. I opened my calendar. I looked at the next 3 work days. I moved anything I could move to clear one whole day. I scheduled an appointment called, "AFP conference information retreat". In the notes I wrote. "Dress comfy. Be ready for strategery." I marked it as "busy". That was MY day. The day I always wished for after a conference. (Once our one-person development department became 2, I scheduled this day with my staff member.) After this important appointment was scheduled, I moved on to the top urgent matters, and I returned calls and emails.
I kept the "conference retreat" day sacred
I put up a "do not disturb" sign on my door. I set my voicemail to answer my phone. I turned off email notification. I hid my phone, and only checked it at scheduled times.
I got out the conference booklet or opened the conference app. I downloaded handouts from the sessions I attended and the sessions my fellow colleagues attended and raved about. I got out my notes. I was ready.
I began to dream and plan and use realistic measures. I looked at our year-long development plan and folded my new knowledge into the places that made sense. I made calendar appointments for the next steps and next phases on each thing we could implement. I made lists of ideas that could be done immediately, next fiscal year, or maybe at a milestone year in 3 years.
I typed my notes, and I scheduled meetings with the right board members, committee chairs, and the executive director. I had notes to share at the staff meeting. I was on fire! It felt good. I felt in control and ready to share and educate the rest of the team. Ahhhhh...
I know all too well how hard it is to juggle all the jobs in a small development office. I did it for almost 19 years. The only regret I have is not figuring out how to manage my time after an AFP conference sooner.
I hope this helps you as you come back from Boston with big ideas, fresh perspectives, and an extra layer of dream whip. You are the change makers. You can do it. Don't be the Princess of Duh. Be the Princess/Prince of Power!
I'm here when you need a shoulder to cry on or a shoulder to punch. I'm YOUR FRIEND IN FUNDRAISING.
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