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The Truth About Delegating—A Day in the Life

November 18, 2013
by Terry Axelrod
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A board member who attended one of our two-day workshops as a member of a team from an Alzheimer's organization gave us this gem.

We were working on how to help already-overloaded CEOs and development directors, in particular, delegate more of their day-to-day tasks so they could make time for major donor cultivation and asking. Change of any type is often met with significant resistance. Asking people to make changes so they can then take on something that can be scary and new is met with even more resistance. Add to that asking people to confront, systematically, all that is already on their plates, and then to dissect it, hour by hour, item by item. It's enough to have people running out of the room!

Here's how the Day in the Life exercise goes:

We ask each team of seven people from each nonprofit organization—a mixed team of board members, volunteers, and senior staff—to interview the development director and then the CEO, using a "day in the life" format. "Walk us through your typical day," is how they begin. Out pours some pretty funny stuff. We have CEOs talking about how they try to be the first in the office so they can be sure it is clean enough for the guests or clients that day. We have development directors talking about climbing under people's desks to fix their computers. People laugh and people cry. It can get quite intense.

In the course of this exercise, board members get a huge education. Staff realize how much they have taken on that does not require their expertise. Often people see how to juggle accountabilities, what to delegate, and to whom. Many groups come away realizing that, if they are serious about focusing on major gifts, they must make time for it in people's calendars and workloads. They may need to hire new staff or reassign duties to existing staff.

Now let's go back to the board member from the Alzheimer's organization. He was a business consultant in the for-profit world. He kind of chuckled when we got to the part about delegating. He shared with the whole class his company's simple "three list" process for delegating. Here is his gem.

Start by making three lists:

  1. List the things you no longer need to be doing that someone else in your organization already knows how to do well.
  2. List the things you no longer need to be doing that someone else in your organization could be trained to do.
  3. List the things you are doing that you need to keep doing.

Here is how to delegate:

  1. For the things on the first list: give them to the person who already knows how to do them well.
  2. For the things on the second list, train that person to become accountable for doing those things and eventually give them to that person.
  3. Keep doing the things in the third list.

Then we add one further piece to the process from our Benevon distinctions regarding accountability:



Terry Axelrod

CEO, Benevon

Terry Axelrod


Terry Axelrod is founder and CEO of Benevon. She has more than thirty years of experience in the...

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