Consistent, Methodical Work

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By: David Phillips

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” –  2 Timothy 4:7

Why do some people seem to achieve the greatest heights?  What do they do differently than most people?  Are they more intelligent, physically stronger or more gifted or talented?  I think not.  They are the people who make a habit out of doing the work that will help them learn, grow and get better at whatever field they are in.

There is cumulative value in making small consistent efforts every day over time.  Whether it is physical exercise, reading, writing or working with mathematical equations—we get better if we invest little bits of time, consistently, over a long period.  Why is that?

Scientists have proven that we really need to spend 15 minutes of focused time to enter a state of flow, where we are at our best and can learn and perform the most difficult challenges with more ease.  They also have found, however, that we cannot work on difficult things more than an hour at a time if we want to do them in an optimal state of flow.  If you are working on something mentally or physically stressful and exhausting, you learn better if you plan to rest or take a nap shortly afterwards to recharge.

So, if you want to get better at a difficult task, spend 30-45 minutes working on it a day, every day, for an extended period.  Make sure you find a place where you can totally focus on whatever it is and make your best effort, consistently, methodically every day.  You will find you are making progress.  What was once very difficult is now mastered, and you can move on to the next challenge.  After you put in the work, reward yourself with some meditation– rest or a nap.

“Success is not a destination: It is a journey. The happiest people I know are those who are busy working toward specific objectives. The most bored and miserable people I know are those who are drifting along with no worthwhile objectives in mind.” – Zig Ziglar

Often people wonder why they are not making progress or advancing.  They say, well I have been jogging for 20 minutes a day for a year now, and I am no faster than I was.  The difference lies in whether you have been working to get better, pushing yourself, tracking your times, setting and reaching goals, or ‘just going for a run.’  The same is true with lifting weights, or whatever the sport—if you are not pushing yourself towards written goals, and reaching them, you are likely not making progress and may even be regressing.

Have you ever met someone, or worse yet, hired someone whose resume screamed of 20 years experience—only to learn that they don’t have 20 years of increasingly capable experience—they have the same years experience 20 times.   Someone who has done the same things (often poorly) for 20 years, is not as valuable as someone who has learned, grown and mastered many tasks while learning to be an even tempered leader and manager who handles their staff with great emotional intelligence.  Got 20 years on the job?  Which one are you?

What does this mean for a nonprofit development professional or fundraising professional?  Have you worked hard to learn new skills?  Do you know how to ask for large gifts effectively—full of confidence and inspiring confidence in your potential donors so that they are eager to help your organization.  Do you know how to cultivate mutually rewarding relationships with donors which make them want to become more engaged with you and your nonprofit organization?

Have you developed a system to cultivate new relationships and find new friends who can serve as potential volunteers and donors from among the constituents your nonprofit serves?  What can you do to cultivate a strong relationship with these people and  get them more excited about becoming involved with your hospital, school or social service organization?

I’ll tell you what you can do.  Work at it diligently every day.  Set a written goal as to how many calls you are going to make, which of those calls will involve a solicitation and what the financial results will be.  Then work hard to reach and exceed those goals, keeping track of your progress and making every effort to improve.

“My success just evolved from working hard at the business at hand each day.” – Johnny Carson  (1925-2005, Television Host)

Your business is a relationships business.  Relationships with people.  To build stronger relationships you need to communicate as clearly and as often as you can. Of course, you will want them to get the regular standard corporate communications such as newsletters, etc., but there is always more to do if you really want to deepen the relationship.

So, plan to call a set number of people on the phone every day, perhaps five.  If they are not available, leave them a cheerful and informative voicemail, making sure they know you called and how much you appreciate what they are doing to help you.  Send a set number, perhaps ten, highly positive e-mails every morning to colleagues, staff and especially to your best donors, volunteers and supporters.  They will feel like a million bucks, and you start your day off feeling tremendous. Finally, try hard to write a few handwritten notes every day;  thanking people for small kindnesses and telling them how much you appreciate them.  There is no question that the handwritten note is the ‘gold standard’ and the recipient will see the effort that went into writing it.  The return on your investment will be astounding.

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” – Edmund Burke, (1729-1797)

Do the work, day in and day out, and you will see progress over time. There is  cumulative value in making a consistent effort.  Often, the golf student will feel they have plateaued when all of a sudden their scores drop three strokes; the basketball player practices for hundreds of free throws each day and doesn’t notice a dramatic difference; but if he has a coach watch him and demand proper form, one day his percentage made will jump by 8-10%.  The same may be true of the piano student; they cannot seem to master a piece, but they continue to rehearse and practice and master small pieces of it, until one day it seems to dawn on them like the light of new sun and they have it—mastery.  

If you fail to do the work, there is cumulative value in that too–degradation.  If you don’t make the effort, you will remain where you are or even lose ground.  If you are not growing, you are dying.  There will be no great reward in massive effort made all at one time, such as cramming for a test.  You simply cannot take it in when you are not in that state of flow.  If you go to the gym tomorrow, and spend ten hours, will people take notice and say, “Wow, you are really ripped”?  Likely you won’t be able to get out of bed because your muscles will not forgive you for trying to do it all at once.

“Four short words sum up what has lifted most successful individuals above the crowd: a little bit more. They did all that was expected of them and a little bit more.”  – Lou Vickery (writer)

Small investments of determined hard work, over time, consistently will build a better you, like money at compound interest, no matter what you are trying to master.   Do the work; then do a little bit more.  You will be glad you did, because soon you will be a master.


David Phillips has over 30 years of fundraising experience.  He founded Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) in 1996.  CDS is celebrating twenty years of strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits.  If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to dgp@cdsfunds.com.

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