scatterbrained 2015-July24
We find many development professionals, people working in major gifts, or nonprofit Executive Directors who are scatterbrained and unable to focus.
If you are organized and have a system for everything, scatterbrained people can leave you frustrated and worn out. Perhaps you have a boss that wants information about a donor at the last minute – even though you gave them all they needed a week ago, they failed to review it and can’t find it on their desk, so now you have get the information again before they go and see the donor in 20 minutes!
Sound like someone you know? Perhaps you are that person.
I am actually not knocking scatterbrained people. In most cases “scatterbrained” is the way someone is wired. In study after study, psychologists have found that “scatterbrained” people are actually quite intelligent, but it’s difficult for them to focus on anything or adhere to a process on their own. In other words, they are good, intelligent people who have tremendous skills – but they have a hard time focusing. So don’t get all negative about these people.
However, if you can focus a scatterbrained person and help them develop a process for tasks, they become incredibly successful.
Why am I bringing this up?
Well, at Veritus Group, Richard and I and our team come across many scatterbrained people who are MGOs, Development Directors and CEOs – people who have been disasters in major gifts, but with our help, they have learned over time to be wildly successful at it.
I guess you could say that we’ve built a successful business this way – helping organizations and people who cannot focus well to succeed in major gifts. Here is how we do it:

  1. Find the right donors to talk to — Many scatterbrained MGOs and development folks are cultivating 400-500 people, thinking they can be effective. They are not. In fact they are failing. No one cultivating 400-500 donors is successful. So after helping them qualify these donors, we get them to a manageable 150 donors.
  2. Correct time allocation — Even 150 donors is tough to manage correctly. We know that 50% of a person’s time has to be spent on their best donors in order to be successful. That is why we tier donors in A, B and C levels, to focus the MGO’s time correctly. This is extremely important. Without this structure, scatterbrained people will spend their time with anyone, for any length of time. This is not a wise use of time and money.
  3. Goals and Plans — Scatterbrained people need goals and plans to keep them focused on the outcome. Without a destination and a detailed road map to get there, the scatterbrained MGO goes off on destructive detours that lead them to nowhere good. This is why many MGOs, development people and leaders fail: because they don’t have a road map. It’s essential.
  4. The ability to let go — Scatterbrained MGOs, development professionals and CEOs are doomed if they don’t have the ability to see they need help. Allowing yourself to be managed and held accountable is the one of the best qualities we see with anyone in major gifts. You can set up a system of accountability, but if that person will not adhere to the system, it means nothing. I personally know a number of executive directors that I would call scatterbrained. The folks who are successful are the ones that have allowed their staff to manage them. They have brilliant minds, are great with people, but they are a disaster on keeping focused. But the good ones know this, and they have allowed others to keep them on track. If you are an MGO or CEO that is a scatterbrain, the best thing you can do is allow someone to help keep you focused. You will NOT be successful without that person.
  5. Put a system in place – We have found that unless you have a system in place to keep a scatterbrain focused, he will not stick with anything. Therefore, we have developed systems and procedures to help a person stay with “the plan.” Sometimes we have to help folks do work in “spurts” and at specific times to keep them focused. We find that ritual and structure are helpful tools to keep someone on track. Whatever it is, it’s personal to each individual. No one is the same. However, we do know that having a structure with systems in place is critical to their success.

Perhaps you, someone you manage or your boss is a scatterbrain. Yep, it can be frustrating. You can choose to live with it and eventually witness failure and ongoing frustration; or you can understand that person and help develop a system of discipline, structure and focus that will lead to success.
If you have a story of how you have been successful either as a scatterbrained person or managing a scatterbrain, we’d love to hear it.