What can you put on autopilot?
Last week, I was speaking at a full day training for nonprofit leaders in Kansas City. In the course of the training, we got to thanking donors. Since the sector doesn’t thank donors well. We mean well, but the thank you notes tend to not get done. So making simple improvements in this area can help your nonprofit stand out and become a preferred charity for donors. What helps get it done is a system that sets thank you’s on autopilot.
Creating an automation systems starts with perhaps the most tedious role of leadership: deciding what levels merit what actions. We have to make these decisions all the time. The key is: make the decisions one time. Then, rather than making the same set of decisions next month or next year, go the extra step of setting up systems that run practically automatically. This takes more effort initially but saves enormous amounts of time and stress over time.
Make the decisions once and automate
When it comes to thanking donors, the tedious decisions involve what level donors get what type of thank you. Working with a small nonprofit today, I drafted levels like this:
- Donations of any size will be sent a gift acknowledgement letter.
- Gifts of $500 – quick note of thanks by development assistant
- Gifts of $1000 – thank you note by development director
- Gifts of $2500 – thank you call from development director
- Gifts of $5000 – note from executive director
- Gifts of $10,000 – thank you call from executive director or board chair
Whatever levels, once they’re decided on the system can be easy. Simply run reports each month for each level. Print out those reports, leave them on your desk, and work at them between other tasks as you go through the month. Then next month, you’ll get a new report.
Setting emails and agendas on autopilot
Do you ever find yourself using the same answers to emails multiple times a week? If you use Google Apps, you can easily create “canned responses” for inserting that text. Within a couple clicks, you can have entire paragraphs of text in the email reply. And if you want to, you can tweak it before sending.
One CEO I worked with was having a challenge keeping his weekly meetings with his direct reports on task. They tended to devolve into friendly but un-focused sharing personal stories. So together, we brainstormed a short agenda that would help him help them. The agenda was really just three or four questions, questions that would allow him to keep the conversational tone of the meetings without losing the focus he needed to run the organization.
We even included starting meetings conversationally asking his direct report for a story related to her annual goals. This allowed the CEO to harvest stories he could share in his appointments with board members and donors.
The automation came when he cut-and-pasted it in the “notes” section on his repeating appointment on his calendar. He always saw the appointment, so putting the questions there would remind him what he had already decided to ask. It worked like a charm! Meetings became more focused without losing the human relationships he’d built. And staff loved that the meetings actually started being productive.
Whatever way you so it, find ways to set tasks on autopilot!
Conserve your leadership energy with automation
My friend Rob Hatch likes to say “To automate is human.” And it is. As you go through your week, pay attention to things you find yourself repeatedly doing. At the end of the week, look over the list and see what you can put on autopilot.
If you’d like, share what you find in the comments below!