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  • Writer's pictureFrances Roen

This Could Have Been An Email: Escape the Endless Cycle of Useless Meetings




Welcome to the bustling world of nonprofit fundraising, where time is as precious as the causes we champion. Fundraisers, the unsung heroes of impact, are often caught in a whirlwind of responsibilities, from nurturing donor relationships to orchestrating large-scale events. However, there's a silent disruptor threatening their effectiveness: the pervasive "too many meetings syndrome." In a recent MIT study, it was found that workers spend up to 85% of their time in meetings, casting a shadow on their psychological, physical, and mental well-being.


So, how do we identify the symptoms, understand the impact, and find the solutions for this syndrome?


The Symptoms:


  • Exhaustion Due To Back-To-Back Scheduling:

Navigating tight schedules is par for the course in fundraising, but the relentless cycle of back-to-back meetings can lead to burnout. Donor interactions suffer as fundraisers find themselves drained and unable to bring their A-game.


  • Straying Attention Span:

The constant stream of meetings can result in a wandering focus, making it challenging for fundraisers to stay fully engaged and contribute meaningfully to discussions. Research from the University of California found that, on average, it takes 23 minutes to re-focus on a task after an interruption. Now compound that after multiple meetings per day.


  • Anxiety Over When You’ll Get Your Real Work Done:

Amidst a sea of meetings, fundraisers may experience anxiety about finding time for their core responsibilities, intensifying the pressure to meet fundraising goals and cultivate relationships.


  • Confusion Over Who Called This Meeting And Why:

In the chaos of a crowded meeting schedule, participants can lose sight of the meeting's purpose and origin, leading to unproductive discussions and wasted time.


The Impact:


Regardless of the intention, excessive meetings negatively impact individuals, productivity, and the nonprofit's ability to meet its mission. Meetings become a known cause of fatigue, frustration, and anxiety, draining employees mentally and physically. Ineffective meetings contribute to burnout and disillusionment among team members, both in-person and online, with studies showing that too many online interactions lead to "Zoom fatigue."


Solutions:


  • Think Before You Schedule:

Consider the purpose, outcome, and process of a meeting before scheduling it. Ensure every meeting serves a clear purpose, outlines desired outcomes, and follows a structured agenda. If these elements are unclear, pause and question the necessity of the meeting.


  • Digital Collaboration Platforms:

Embrace digital tools like Sharepoint, Google Docs, Click-Up and Trello for real-time collaboration. These platforms allow asynchronous communication, enabling team members to contribute at their own pace, minimizing the need for synchronized schedules.


  • "No-Meeting" Days:

Designate a day each week without meetings to provide uninterrupted blocks of time for focused work. During these days, communication shifts to asynchronous channels, freeing team members from the constraints of scheduled meetings.


  • Recurring Meetings For One-On-One Check-Ins:

Streamline communication by reserving recurring meetings for one-on-one check-ins rather than group meetings. And, don’t forget to set an end date for these recurring meetings–no one wants every other Tuesday booked through 2029. 


  • Empower Individuals To Decline Meetings:

Cultivate a culture where declining meeting invitations is not only acceptable but encouraged. Fundraisers and team members should feel empowered to protect their time for essential tasks, and leaving a meeting early should be destigmatized.


  • Project/Task-Centric Scheduling:

Shift to a project/task-centric approach for scheduling discussions. Instead of adhering to a rigid meeting schedule, organize discussions around specific projects or tasks, ensuring collaboration is purpose-driven.


In the mission-driven world of nonprofit fundraising, where staff resources are often limited and expectations are high, it's easy to lose sight of personal well-being. Combatting the productivity pitfalls of too many meetings is critical. By implementing these solutions, fundraisers can reclaim their time, stay focused on donor relationships, and contribute significantly to the success of their organizations. Let's break free from the meeting frenzy and embrace a more intentional, impactful way of working.

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