Checklists 

Brad flying his son to camp!

This summer I am doing something new: learning how to fly. I have logged about 25 hours so far, and hopefully I will have earned my pilot’s license by December. 

A huge part of flying is going through checklists so that you don’t forget to do the important things that keep you safe. The checklists contain the things you need to do at every step of the flight: before takeoff, during the climb, before landing, etc.

Years ago, I read a really good book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande. This book described how in a world of incredible complexity, checklists have become the fundamental way that flying and performing surgeries have become much safer and more effective. I had never experienced checklists firsthand until I started flying, but now I get it.

Checklists can be used for more than just flying or surgeries. What if we also used them for the ongoing evaluation of our work with major donors? 

If I were to create a checklist for working with major donors, it would go something like this:

  • Treat your donors like partners.
  • Ask for a gift once a year and thank them at least three times for it.
  • Inform donors about the outcomes of your organization, in terms of its impact.
  • Understand why they support your work.
  • Invite them to participate or volunteer with you.
  • Acknowledge the donor’s gift within 48 hours of receiving the gift.

The checklist in a 1980 Piper Chiefton.

Checklists are not meant to be exhaustive; for example, there is nothing on the plane checklists that says to push the brakes after you land to stop the plane. That is obvious. But they do have all the things that are ‘life-threatening’ and super important. 

In some ways, these checklists can seem unnecessary, but I have already had two experiences flying where a checklist kept me safe. Once during a preflight checklist, the checklist determined that an essential part of the engine was breaking (which meant we did not take off). Another time, as I was about to land the plane, the checklist reminded me that I had not put the flaps out. 

Here’s my challenge to you: avoid the disaster of donors becoming disinterested by following this simple major donor checklist!

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