One Leader’s Approach to Annual Team Planning

“Coffee, Calendars, and Sticky Notes: These are a few of my favorite things!”

by Amy Lazoff, Director of Philanthropy & Community Relations, Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo

There is one thing I love about this time of year that not everyone quite understands – and that is the sheer joy I experience when picking out a planner for next year. Yes, even though my daily schedule is electronic, I still LOVE a good paper planner!

When I open the cover of my new planner each year and see the empty pages, my brain fills with ideas of all I’d like to accomplish. I love the idea of planning the work and working the plan. As the leader of a small but mighty team of fundraising professionals, who end up wearing a lot of hats throughout the year, my paper planner is also used as a leadership tool.

Everybody gets to pick out a new planner

One of the tasks I give to my entire team is to pick out a planner that works for them. Some like monthly only, some want monthly/weekly or daily, and I just want them to use whatever will be the most beneficial to how they work. Then we pick a day near the end of the year to fill them out. We call it our “Calendar Planning Day” and the first year I took my team through the exercise it was a little overwhelming. Now, they look forward to it and come prepared with all their notes! This day is filled with a lot of coffee, our calendars, and sticky notes of every color.

Mapping out the year

Once we’re done, we’ve mapped out our entire year. It helps my entire team know what is happening with who and when. It helps spot any conflicts early on and make sure nothing big is missing. This is invaluable information to have when sometimes your job, as a leader, is to move on to plan b or pivot when unexpected events threaten to derail your plans. It is also a valuable tool to have as a co-worker, to know when someone has a big deadline coming up so you can lend a helping hand. It also prevents us from attempting to do too many big or new things all at the same time. After all, there are only so many hours in a day!

For my team it is also a way to take our annual fundraising and stewardship plans and lay them out in a different way, focusing on the tasks that must be done to achieve our goals. We also layer in board meetings, conferences, planned vacations, major grant deadlines, planned donor engagement activities, direct mail, special events, etc. as well as all the bigger tasks associated with keeping those things on track. Those tasks range from donor reports, to appeal drafts, to print deadlines, linen and food orders, volunteer training nights, when letters need updated, and more. It isn’t every task we do – far from it, but it lays out the structure for our year. Our planners help us easily talk about our upcoming projects, needs, and recap of the hits and misses as a team each week, and it also helps me prepare for one-on-one meetings with each of my team members.

This tactic may not work for every team, but if you’re looking for a better way to plan your work, and work your plan (or coordinate the chaos), give it a try – what do you have to lose?

Amy Lazoff is Director of Philanthropy & Community Relations at Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo and a certified Quadrant 3 Leadership Coach. She leads a Nonprofit Academy training on planning called “Plan the Work; Work the Plan.”

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