By Garan Weilnau
Okay… yes… I started out with a silly joke. But it works and I have all year to do it. So I’m owning it.
A little back tracking though… In 2019 I did the most liberating thing I’ve ever done as a professional. One of the goals I set for myself was to “Create custom reports for fundraising staff that are wanted, needed, and used”. And it’s amazing how those three little words can completely change everything about my professional mindset. And I’m never going back.
If heading into 2020 means the clarity of 20/20 vision, then I am sticking with the idea of creating reports that are match all three categories. This is not one of those jokes where you say that someone can have a report quickly, perfect, and robust – now pick 2. If I can’t say that a report that is wanted, needed, AND used… well my friends… it probably isn’t going to get made.
It all started with custom portfolio reports. These bad boys had it all. Charts! Research! Wealth! These were like a tiny database all smashed into one custom printed sheet and lovingly put into binders. I was so proud that I had made one location where people could see the 30,000-foot view of their portfolio whenever they wanted. I had 7 of them to do. After the first 2 I was starting to have some regret. After 5 I definitely had some regret. But I couldn’t do some and then not distribute others. So I finished them. I handed them out at a Moves Management meeting and everyone ooh’d and ahhh’d over them, gushed over them, poured over them, and professed their love of them.
Then it came time to update the binders in the next fiscal year. Some of them were simply beautiful. Coffee stains everywhere. Notes in the margin and on the back. Tabs along the margins and dog ear folds in the top corner. Crossed out information and new, updated information handwritten in its place. They were a thing of beauty. Others were as pristine as the day I handed them out. Some didn’t even look like they were opened.
And that’s when I realized that this structure needed to change. I don’t have the bandwidth to do this level of custom reporting for everyone all the time and it’s personally very frustrating to do this level of work and it’s just ignored. (FULL DISCLOSURE: I know DO’s work hard, so I am not trying to say those that did not use the information did not appreciate it.)
So that’s when I started making reports that are wanted, needed, and used.
I can make custom reports. I can make pretty looking pivot tables in Excel that have custom formatting with slicers and filters and changes (OH MY). And I don’t even consider myself that proficient. I have seen people build things in Excel that are both mind boggling and beautiful.
Just because I can make something doesn’t mean I should.
And that’s sometimes where the tricky part comes in. I have a million ideas of how I can demonstrate information being used. But that doesn’t mean it’s wanted.
They may just want a simple export in a format they can sort.
And here is the key thing to remember – that is okay. Giving someone a report in a format they are comfortable with doesn’t mean that I am not still a reporting badass. It means I am smart enough to give the right information in the right format.
I know I could make it look like some masterpiece. But that doesn’t mean I have to each and every time.
The first step to any report should be understanding that this report is needed, that it the answer/outcome the person is searching for isn’t available elsewhere, and that the only way of getting this information is through a custom report. Once that is sorted out, everything else should fall simply into place.
Just because I have the idea of a custom portfolio review book doesn’t mean that the development staff needed to see their portfolios at this level. Or in this way.
Needed reports are those reports that people ask for. Again and again. And they ask for it because they want it. And they want it because it has become an important part of their routine.
This one is admittedly the hardest. Because it involves both letting something go and accepting the fact that it isn’t personal. Someone can genuinely appreciate my work while at the same time never actually use it. And it is incredibly liberating to think “I don’t HAVE to do this”. I am the only researcher on my team. Creating research books for people who don’t actually want or need them is time away from other work, not answering other questions, and not understanding other trends.
And if they aren’t used sometimes it is a matter of pivoting to find another way to present the information. If it isn’t used, that doesn’t mean that I never ever give that report information again. It just means that this current format or this current timing isn’t right.
So here it is 2020 and this is the new mindset. I’m confident that I’m going the right direction. And it’s empowering to know that I’m doing what feels right. I got this. And you’ve got this, too.