The Next Most Important Thing

We were meeting with a non-profit recently, going over the plan for the next month of their capital campaign. This organization is in the silent or private phase, the time when the large gifts are solicited. I reminded the development officers of what they already knew. Time spent with large donors brings greater results. Five contacts with a single donor who has the capacity to make a six figure gift was more important than calling on 20 donors who could make a $1000 gift. There is time to call on the smaller donors, but now, for this organization, it is time to cultivate and solicit those “deep pocketed” donors.

(And one aside here. If you use language like this as you think of your donors, you might be betraying an objectification of these supporters. They aren’t six figure givers, small donors, large contributors, people to be cultivated and “touched.” They are friends who help your organization achieve a vision and friends whom you help as well.)

As we discussed who needed to be visited and what asks were scheduled, someone reminded us all, “Do the next most important thing.”

I love that sentiment and the clarity that this statement brings. Just do the next most important thing on your list.

Granted, putting this into practice is difficult. Sometimes knowing what is the next most important thing is all but impossible to ascertain. Do I leave the office early for my son’s tee-ball game, call my mom who is sick or return the important client’s phone call? Can I distinguish between the urgent and the important, the “do it now” versus the “it can wait”?

The bigger problem, however, is in never asking the question. We take off in the high flying plane of our work week without ever asking where we are headed.

Take an honest look at the past week of work. Did you strategize any so that your best efforts could be spent on the most important task? Did you even ask, “What is the most important thing I need to do this week?”

Being busy is not the same as being productive.

A calendar full of meetings may be a convenient excuse for evading what really needs to be done.

Back to our non-profit clients. If the development officers ask this hard question, it may completely change who they visit or call, which email they labor over and which they dash off in a moment. In their campaign right now, what is the most important thing they need to get done?

The joy of check marks alongside a “to do” list. Don’t get me started on the delight this brings. Exquisite indeed.

But did I do what really needed to be done?

Do the next most important thing.