Year-end is a stressful time in the nonprofit industry. You are focused on fundraising for the holidays, getting ready for Giving Tuesday and still working on the day-to-day of your organization. Things can get hectic and you may feel overwhelmed, but luckily there are things you can do to feel a little more at ease this year.
Emma Lewzey is the founder of Blue Sky philanthropy and joins us again on the show to discuss ways you can manage your year-end stress and be more mindful with your time.
Emma’s Top 3 Tips on Managing Stress
- Try practicing time blocking. Just as you would schedule a meeting, put time blocks in your calendar around tasks you want to get done in the day and honour that commitment.
- Build in time for a breather in your schedule. Don’t be afraid to take a few minutes to yourself like having a few minutes in between meetings to take a break. Or even setting aside 15 minutes at the beginning of your day to go over your intentions and priorities.
- Give yourself some grace. Understand that perfection is not a realistic goal and remember to take time for yourself when you need to.
Our Favourite Quotes
[07:59] I think a big message for me around Imposter syndrome that kind of connects back to this whole theme of your own stress and managing our time is recognizing that our work doesn't need to be perfect. In fact, it's an impossible standard to expect perfection of ourselves or anyone on our team, right? It's humanly impossible.
[12:55] If you set a meeting with one of your most important donors, would you get to that meeting? I've got more important stuff coming on, not going to show up for that. Right. So I think part of the practice is to start seeing your commitments that you make to yourself is equally as important as those that you make to your donors or your board or your boss.
[25:36] The risk of burnout is so high right now, so it's really important that we're taking care of ourselves and then we're reaching out for help and support and to talk when we need to.
Let's tackle your end stress with Emma Lewzey.
Hello, and welcome to Driven's Fundraising Superheroes Podcast. I'm your host, Sabrina Sciscente, and as an innovator in nonprofit technology, our team at Driven is determined to help you unlock your true fundraising potential. We can help you with your donor, volunteer and member management. We would love to hear from you if you want to learn more, please give us a visit at trustdriven.com. Your end is an incredibly stressful time, right? There's so much to do.
We have the holidays, some of us are getting ready for giving Tuesday, and of course, there's December 31, one of the biggest giving days of the year. It's really easy to lose track of time, get in your head and feel overwhelmed. But luckily, there are things you can do to help combat that year-end stress. Emma Lewzey is an award-winning fundraiser with 20 years of experience in helping nonprofit organizations like yours build and grow successful, sustainable fundraising programs. You may remember her from the podcast we've had her on before to talk about major gifts.
I'm so excited to have her on the show again today to give tips on how to manage year-end stress. She's also the founder of Blue Sky Philanthropy. And if you haven't already, I definitely recommend you check her out. Emma, thank you so much for coming back onto the show.
Thanks, Sabrina. Thanks for having me again.
So we're gearing up for year-end fundraising, fun stuff. It's such a busy time. There's so much to do. It's really easy to get lost in your head, get really overwhelmed. So what should fundraisers keep in mind as they head into the last few months of the year? Yes.
I love this. And I want to start off by saying that I know this feeling so, so well because I spent 20 plus years in the frontline fundraising trenches with you. So I remember at, like, a visceral level, this feeling of seeing a year and coming. And I always felt like the analogy for me is it feels like you're going up a roller coaster Hill and you start clicking closer and closer and closer, and, you know, you're just going to go down the other side and it's going to be a wild ride for the next few weeks and or months, depending on the organization you're with.
So yeah, it's an intense time for sure. So I would say one of the first things I like to recommend to folks when you're in your end is to a little bit of it is a mindset shift, right? A mindset shift around, and I can talk about specific tactics in a second. But it's so easy, especially at your end, to start feeling like I don't have any control over my time, right? I don't know if you've ever felt that or thought that, but I know for me, especially in busy times.
It's very easy to slip into that place where it's like, I don't have any control over my time and I'm just reacting and it's coming at me. Right. So if you have ever had that thought, how does that feel like for you, if you've ever had that thought, how does that leave you feel like when you have that thought of, like, I have no control over my time.
I feel like when I am crunched for time, it's like the world stops and I find that I'm less productive. I don't know what to do.
Yeah. I feel like for me because I still have to manage this, when I have that thought, I don't have any control over my time. For example, today I was just sharing with Sabrina, I have a day. It's pretty back to back, right? It's pretty tightly scheduled when I start thinking something like, I don't have any control over my time, the feeling that that brings up in me is sort of a bit of a franticness, right. A franticness. And I start kind of hopping from one thing to another.
And so I think then what ends up happening is that we kind of get into that cycle. Right. So in a lot of ways, our mindset around this time of year and that feeling of, like, I don't have control can really end up like feeding into that year-end stress. Does that resonate?
It totally does, because it's almost as if the busier you are, the less you can get done because it's constant, like you said, back to back. And then you don't have time to regroup your thoughts and just take a breather. So then you're going into the next thing at 70%, and then the thing after that, you're going in at 50%, and then by the end of the day, you have nothing left.
Definitely. It totally impacts the way we show up right in that frantic way. Or however, it shows up for you when you're thinking about not having control over your time. So I think that's almost my first tip before we even get into some tactics. I got some really useful tactics for folks, too, is just to start noticing, what are you thinking about this time of year? Is that a thought that comes up for you frequently, like, I don't have control over my time? Maybe it's different for you.
And when that thought does come up, how does that make you feel? And then how does that make you show up in your day, whether it's with your colleagues or your family or your donors? And what can we do to kind of shift that thought a little bit and regain control over our time? Because once we get into that idea that we don't have control over our time, it's very difficult to start implementing some of the tactics that can be really helpful. I would say one thing I wanted to start talking about just to pick up on something that you mentioned is this idea of actually building in time so that we do have a breather and that we do have time to think and organize our thoughts.
And this can be as little as, like, ten or 15 minutes at the beginning of the day just to say, okay, I'm going to pause here. I know I have a busy day coming up. What are my priorities today? It might even be how do I want to show up in these back-to-back meetings that I'm having today? What are some of my goals and just taking that moment to kind of pause? And before you dive right in, before you go down the big Hill on that roller coaster is just to pause and regroup and have a moment to figure out what are my priorities for today.
And how do I want to show up even if it is very busy? Even if I am back to back, I feel like that can make a huge difference. And I think that's where that mindset shift is really important, too. If you're listening to this and your brain is saying back to me, I don't even have ten or 15 minutes to do that. That's why the mindset shift is so important to start within the beginning, right? Because we all, I don't care what role you're in or how busy you are.
I think it's crucial that we start actually carving out time, to spend more time to think more purposely about our priorities. And also, like I said, how we want to show up and everyone has that time, right? Everyone can carve out some small amount of time. And if we keep giving into that idea that we don't have any control over our time, I think that can really feed a lot of problems in terms of especially in a busy time of year like this.
Oh, it does for sure. I just had a conversation around Imposter syndrome with Maria Bryan, and she was saying, one of the biggest things you have to do is give yourself that time. Just take a breather and double check your work because it's so often that we feel like we have to complete as much as we can in a single day that we forget that it's okay to go back and make sure that it's up to your standards or it's okay to take a five minute break or it's okay to give that time to yourself.
And like you said, check-in, make sure that you're feeling okay and make sure that your mind is in the right place. So I agree. It's so important.
Yeah. And I think a big message for me around Imposter syndrome that kind of connects back to this whole theme of your own stress and managing our time is recognizing that our work doesn't need to be perfect. In fact, it's an impossible standard to expect perfection of ourselves or anyone on our team, right? It's humanly impossible. I noticed that's a big thing that comes in, especially in major gifts, which is one of my big areas of focus is this perfectionism that can sometimes really end up holding us back from moving forward.
It can end up holding us back from taking action, and it can eat up so much of our time striving to hit an impossible standard. So I would say that would be my added piece of input around this conversation around imposter syndrome is sometimes it's because we're holding ourselves to overly high standards that are absolutely impossible to meet, and that can end up having really significant impact on both our stress levels and, quite frankly, our overall fundraising results. I always like to say that perfect is the enemy of good fundraising because it holds us back from taking action so much because, yeah, we're waiting for an impossible thing to have that basically.
Which is the unachievable standard of perfection in our work.
Yeah. Perfection is the thief of progress, something like that. Do you have any tips for when fundraisers start to get this overwhelming feeling when they start to get really stressed out to come back, stay calm, stay focused and begin approaching-maybe it's through time management or planning to get themselves back on track?
Absolutely. Yeah. I think from a tactical perspective, one of the things that was a total game-changer for me was time blocking. So I've heard this referred to in a few different ways. Time boxing is another way it's referred to, but essentially it is just this idea around becoming more purposeful about your schedule for the week and actually blocking out time in that schedule in advance for your highest priorities. Now, this can be scaled up or down depending upon what role you're in, how available you have to be, how reactive your work is.
But I believe everyone can put time blocking to use, and especially if you're someone who feels like you don't have control over your time, it can be a very useful exercise. So what my practice is is that I typically tend to sit down usually first thing on a Monday morning, and I just do a total brain dump on everything that is going on this week. What are my priorities? What are my priorities? Not only in my business, but also in my personal and my family life.
And I actually get those all down on a piece of paper. And then I actually start slotting those into time blocks in the week. It's something I've been doing for a few years now, so it's definitely a practice that takes some getting used to, and you can start even with small, small time blocks. Right. If the idea of time blocking your whole week is just seems like an impossibility to you, you might say, Well, let me look at my parties for the weekend. I want to, for example, it's really important to me with your end coming up to make sure that I'm on top of all of my reach out to those key individual major donors, for example.
So I'm just going to sit down and actually going to schedule that into my calendar. I'm going to find that time and I'm going to make a commitment to myself. I'm going to block it in, and I'm going to honour that time commitment. So let's say I say eleven to twelve on Tuesday. I'm going to do X, Y and Z to move forward those reach out to my major donors and put that in my calendar. And I'm going to honour that like I would honour any meeting with anyone else.
So I think this is the key. This is where I sometimes see time blocking falling down is we schedule something into our calendar. Let's say it's a commitment to ourselves, and then we get to it and we say, oh, no other things are going on, right? Like this is more important. That's more important. I have to email my boss back. So we're very quick to kind of dismiss that commitment we've made to ourselves. But what I really want to encourage folks is to start thinking about those commitments like you would any other meeting.
If you set a meeting with one of your most important donors, would you get to that meeting? I've got more important stuff coming on, not going to show up for that. Right. So I think part of the practice is to start seeing your commitments that you make to yourself is equally as important as those that you make to your donors or your board or your boss. Right. So that's the key with time blocking is slot that and decide what your big priorities are for the week.
And I'd encourage you to do actually, another game changer for me was actually I start now time blocking around my priorities, both my family priorities, but also my health priorities. So I started running during the pandemic. I schedule in my runs, make sure they're in there before I schedule anything else. And then I schedule in my work commitments. And I do honour those commitments. Unless there is an emergency, something has to be on fire, right? For me to not honour those commitments. I really recommend you folks experimenting with this.
There was a great study done, and we'll see if I can look it up, but it looked at all like 100 different time management techniques. And there were all sorts of silly ones on there, including, like, chewing gum. I don't know for whom chewing gum is a time management technique, but they look at all these different ideas that have been out there around. Like, how do we manage our time and time blocking ended up being number one, number one in terms of being the most effective way to really do time management meaningfully.
And I think time management, to some degree, has gotten a bit of a bad name. But I like to think of time management as really like, I have a certain amount of time on this Earth and in my day. And part of this is not just about how do I maximize my productivity, but it is about what impact do I want to have in this world? And how do I want to spend my time? And how do I even want to prioritize my family and my health?
So I think that time management can actually be a much healthier thing than just being about, like, how do I eke out another percent of productivity? Looking at what do I want in my life? What are my priorities? And how do I actually move closer to that? How do I take back more control and move closer to what I want my life to look like and what my priorities are in my life?
You can tell I love a good bit of time blocking, but it's been such a game-changer for me, and I think it really is something that anybody can utilize no matter who you are or what your schedule is like. You can start really small. You can think about blocking out maybe half an hour a day or an hour a day for your big priorities and then go from there.
You mentioned prioritizing donors, and that is really important right now. In addition to prioritizing our own interests, like you said, exercise, that's super important. But our donors are, of course, the heart of our organization. And there's that huge opportunity within the holidays to reconnect with our past donors, maybe even find new supporters.
So what do you recommend for fundraisers when they are prioritizing their time at the year? And when it does come to their donors, what should they be focusing on? Can they merge campaigns? Can they simplify the process to make it a little easier on them?
Yeah. That is a great question. I think one thing I often see with organizations is this approach to fundraising, where is a little bit like we have to do absolutely everything to get the best possible results. But what ends up happening is they get spread, so, so thin. And yeah, I heard it described beautifully in a book called Essentialism. I can't remember the author's name, but he often describes it as making a millimetre of progress in a million different directions. Right. So this idea when we're trying to do absolutely everything and we are not sort of making significant progress because we're spread so thin.
I think that's a trap that a lot of organizations fall into.
There's a longer-term way to deal with this or a bigger picture way to deal with this in a shorter-term way, I would say, in terms of the bigger picture, I think as nonprofits, we need to start thinking more about setting strategic priorities when it comes to fundraising.
We need to start doing the hard work of actually deciding, like, what are we going to say no to so that we can truly focus those energies on where we're going to get the biggest impact, those activities that are best aligned not only to get results for our organization but those activities that are also best aligned even with their values as an organization. So that's a bigger piece of work, for sure. But it's something I always encourage organizations to think about. Maybe one thing settled down after year, and when we're planning for the year ahead is just to really start getting a little more focused around our fundraising priorities and stop trying to do absolutely everything and just to check it out if we start falling a bit into the Shiny Object Syndrome trap, which does tend to happen for folks so that's the longer share in peace is looking at those priorities and actually making some tough decisions around where we're going to strategically focus our time.
I think in the short term, definitely. This is where applying time blocking can be time blocking in action, around where you want to focus between now and your end can be super powerful. And I would say for me, one of my areas of expertise is absolutely is around working with individual donors, particularly working with individual major donors. My recommendation to all of the folks like Coach and my clients is like, now is the time you need to be having those meaningful conversations with your donors. And that is largely about the action of reaching out, trying to book meetings, having the booking time to have those conversations.
I think that's where you could have the greatest value if you do have an individual giving component to your work. Such an important time of year to be doing that. And this is sometimes where I hear something that I find very interesting, and it's a myth I want to counter. Here is oftentimes when I'm chatting with fundraisers, they'll say something like, Well, it's okay. Our fiscal year ends not until March or our fiscal year ends, not until June. And I want to remind folks that your donors don't care about your fiscal year end.
So your donors are really thinking about giving on that calendar year. It's very unusual. There may be an occasional exception, but typically your donors are making key decisions now about how they are going to be giving between now and the end of the year. So it's really important time to make sure that we're connecting with donors, make sure we're not sort of getting carried away, and that reactivity that tends to come up at this time of year and to actually start taking Proactive action to reach out and connect with our donors.
Whatever that looks like, depending on your organization could look different than I'm describing right now. But I think connecting with individual donors, communicating with individual donors, building meaningful relationships and making sure that you are asking for that gift again. Whatever that looks like in your organization between now and the end of the year is a very important piece of the puzzle. But, yeah, definitely making sure that you're not stretching yourself too thin is key. And recognizing the importance of starting to see our donors in a more holistic way.
This pops up at bigger shops, sometimes mid-size to big shops. Is this habit we have of siloing. And sometimes those silos sometimes pop up and grow and flourish when we don't pay close attention to them. But your donor is not coming into your organization thinking like, I'm a small donor. I'm an annual donor. These are all labels that we're putting on our donors. When we're siloing when we end up siloing, what happens is that we're not working with the donor in a holistic way. Say, we've got marketing communications over here.
They've got their own campaigns going, we've got annual over here. They've got their own campaigns going majors over here, and we're doing our own thing. But we need to start seeing the donor as like a holistic human and not as these sort of like, not these sort of labels or pieces.
Like, it's not unusual to see a major donor, for example, go through your end and say, like, oh, you know, I actually really like this campaign. You're running for the holiday season, and I'm going to make a smaller gift to that, even though I am a major donor. So I think really starting what can be very helpful is bringing it all the way back and starting to think like, how are we working with our donor as a holistic being as opposed to breaking them down into different labels and different pieces and trying to slot them into one of those silos?
It's convenient for us as an organization. It's not the way a donor experiences giving, right. It doesn't make any sense. So I don't know if that's complicating things more or less going to your end. But I think that's the kind of thing when I'm thinking of streamlining is just thinking about that, just starting to think about the donor as a holistic being versus the way in which we conveniently kind of break their experience and up categorize. It can actually be really helpful. Yeah, right.
When you start bringing it back to the basics, that's one thing I feel like becomes clear again because it's so easy to overcomplicate. There's so much information coming at us.
You have to do this. You have to practice this, and then you start comparing yourself to other organizations that they're doing without even taking into account like they might have a larger capacity than you do. So making sure you're not spreading yourself too thin is really important. And, of course, looking out for those silos because silos can really cut into the productivity of your organization.
Oh, yes, big time, big time.
Well, thank you. So much, Emma, for joining me again. I really appreciate your time.
Yeah, my pleasure. I hope these ideas and tips are helpful for folks and hang in there. I know it's a big challenge at your end, and yeah, if it does become too much, you've been doing a lot of stress over the past 18 months, two years, more so than usual with the pandemic. So if the stress becomes too much, I want to remind people it's so important to reach out to somebody, whether it's a colleague, maybe if you feel like it's not necessarily possible within your organization, maybe it's a mentor.
It's another fundraiser. But if it does start feeling like too much, do reach out for help and do reach out and make sure that you're connecting with people and talking about how you feel, because this may be a separate podcast and I can come back. But I feel like the risk of burnout is so high right now, so it's really important that we're taking care of ourselves and then we're reaching out for help and support and to talk when we need to, because there's a lot of pressure on us right now, and it's not necessarily.
While I'm a big advocate for time management and time blocking, there is also a really important role for getting that support you need if you're going through a particularly stressful time where it feels like it's becoming difficult to manage. So I really want to leave folks with that as well and make sure that everyone is taking good care of themselves this time of year, because that's absolutely crucial as well.
That's a great message to leave our listeners with. And I would just want to thank you again, Emma, for finding the time to join me on the show. And for those listening, I have linked Emma's website in the Description box. I have also linked a blog post of hers that I found particularly helpful when it came to understanding time blocking, time management. So if you want to get more information on that, that can also be found in the description box. And if you want to stay updated on everything, Fundraising Superheroes We do have a newsletter available to you where we deliver all of Driven's newest content for the month to your inbox.
It's a monthly newsletter and you can sign up on our website. So I'll make sure to link that in the description box, and we also love to hear from you. So if you ever have any questions, please feel free to reach out. And as always, thank you so much for listening. And we'll see you next time on the Fundraising Superheroes podcast.