10 tips and tools for the busy nonprofit professional

  1. Pomodoro Technique – Break down your day into 25-minute chunks so you can focus on ONE thing at a time with 5 minute breaks in between. Keeps your day from being B-O-R-I-N-G and makes you feel good about getting things done after a few cycles. Every 4 pomodoros you can take a 15-minute break.  Click here for a full description of the Pomodoro Technique.

2. Delegate – Ask yourself if there are tasks that you are doing that should be delegated. Often in the rush and crush of the events of the day, it’s easy to default to a mentality of “It’s easier and faster to simply do this myself.” That is probably true. We all do what we have to in order to move forward, but it only means that you will be saddled with this responsibility the next time it comes around. Make a note and schedule a time to train the appropriate person to take that task off your plate. I used to do some co-presenting with a business consultant whose first activity with senior managers was to make a list of tasks to delegate. The exercise was revisited twice a year. The act of delegation not only frees up time for you, it builds the skill set of someone else in your organization.

10 Tips and Tools 3. Regular back ups of your laptop – Laptops have a limited shelf life. If you have ever suffered a loss of data, pictures, files, reports and documents – you know first hand how painful and damaging that can be. It can mean hours, days and weeks of rewriting documents and recreating spreadsheets. Nothing is more frustrating or demoralizing. I picked up a WD My Passport back up device from Target for under $100. It plugs into the USB port and completes a back up in a matter of minutes. There are other tools and which of these tools you use is less important than using it on a regular basis. Schedule a time to conduct your back ups (I do it when I am watching my favorite Sunday night TV programs). You’ll have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your information is safe.

4. Regular back ups of your website – Crazy Weather, cutting of underground power lines down the street by some renegade trench digger, hackers and server failures are all out there possibly visiting your website in some way or another. It’s always a good practice to have scheduled backups of your website. Things happen without warning so be prepared so that your website can be transferred to a new host and back online within hours. If you’re on WordPress an easy solution is Backup Buddy by iThemes or Code Guard. Other services like SiteVault handle just about everything else. Just be sure to back up your files to another location besides your actual web server.

5. List of critical phone numbers printed out – This tip sounds a little early 20th century. But smartphones get dropped, lost and stolen. Since most phone books are doomed for the recycling bin and probably don’t contain the phone numbers that are critical to you – they’re not of much use. But if you’ve ever been stranded with a cell phone that’s gone dead and have to resort to a land line or use someone else’s phone – having all of those numbers stored on your phone won’t help. When I was traveling 75% of the time, I used to keep a printed phone number list in my briefcase and it did come in very handy. Granted this is for emergency use – but with the frequency of winter storms, hurricanes, or any other inconvenience – a list of managers, board members, family members can ensure that you can contact the people you need to contact comes in quite handy.

6. Have a second cloud-based email account – Have an alternative for your email in case your email server goes down. You have your IT staff set this up on your web server to switch over to handle email in a crisis or you can have a free email account like Gmail ready to go in case of catastrophic failure. Having these addresses ahead of time and shared amongst essential personnel will make the switch easier. Put your phone list down on paper and keep it in your planner or your wallet… a piece of paper can’t break down or lose power. http://mail.google.com

7. Free project tool – Herding cats is not all it’s cracked up to be… Asana is an easy browser based project management tool that is FREE. Yes, there’s a paid version but you can use it plenty with your team on the free version. It’s really a serious piece of software that sends you email reminders, allows you to create templates for repeated tasks and informs your team on who’s doing what. Despite the occasional unicorn that celebrates with encouraging messages when you finish a task, this is one tool that is serious stuff. It’s jam packed with way more features that would take more than a minute to explain, but go check out Asana.com and see for yourself. It’s built by a great team of people who are trying to help the rest of us keep our sanity when it comes to projects. http://www.asana.com

8. Feeding the content engine – There are days when nothing is more daunting than facing a blank word document. Our audiences and stakeholders and constituents are hungry for content. If you are a content creator – it can feel like the weight of the world on your shoulders. Here are some tips on how to approach the challenge and I’ll follow with some tools. 1) Share the burden – look for writers – internally or outside the organization. 2) Mix in Q&A formats or list formats. You won’t have to write transitions. 3) Interview someone with an expertise – what are the 3 most gratifying things about being a volunteer, what are the 5 things people can do to help feed the hungry, save a child, spread the Gospel, find a cure, etc. 4) Checklists – they are easy to write and audiences love them. Examples would be Donor checklist or a volunteer checklist. Not only do they promote action, you can create them more quickly than a fully developed article.

9. Alltop mega aggregator – AllTop.com is a site dedicated to posting hundreds of blog sites based on topics such as nonprofit, fundraising, education, homeless, etc. So if you go to AllTop.com and search on Fundraising, it will bring up a page of dozens of blogs that write regularly on the topic of fundraising. Beneath the blog title it will list the five more recent posts from that blog. I use the site to get a sense of what the hot topics are. It’s a convenient centralized place to get up to speed but also to get ideas for articles that I’m tasked with writing.

10. Google+ – Yes – you absolutely should have a Google+ account. The primary reason for this is because Google owns search and Google+ is a very good way to increase your organic search visibility. There’s a joke among SEO experts that goes: Where’s the best place to hide a dead body? Answer: On the second page of Google search results. It illustrates the importance of appearing on the first page because data shows that people rarely look beyond the first page of results when searching. Google+ is Google social media platform. Yes – it is another social media account that you have to manage. If you don’t have a Google+ page it should be high on your list of things to do.

This is from a presentation I did a few years back called “50 Tips in 50 Minutes.” More tips and tricks next week.