Member Story

Doing Less to Do More - How I Learned to Focus for Success

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Devan Mercurio

“Jack of all trades, master of none.” If you’re unfamiliar with this phrase, it describes someone who can do many things but none very well. I was indignant when I first encountered this phrase as a young musician because, why couldn’t I “do it all” – it wasn’t until I began to settle into my career as a fundraiser that I understood that “doing it all” didn’t equal success. In this article, I’d like to share how I learned to do less in order to do more, by focusing to find greater success.

The fundraising profession found me while I was pursuing a career as an opera singer. My passions were starting to shift, and I realized that I could still have a life making the art that I loved happen, as a fundraiser. When pivoting my career path, I said yes to absolutely everything that came my way. I was hungry to be in the nonprofit fundraising industry and tried to learn as much as possible about everything I could so that I could be hired into a full-time role. When I eventually landed that full-time gig, I still had the same mentality because I wanted to increase my value as an employee and was constantly offering to learn other skills and assist with projects that did not align with my role. As my insatiable thirst for knowledge continued to shape me into the fundraiser that I am today, I recognized that I had yet to reach my fullest potential. I was overwhelmed and distracted. I knew that I needed to learn to focus. Here are a few things that helped me find my focus:

1. Set Your Intentions & Define Your Goals

In my journey to find focus, I learned the power of setting intentions. Whether it’s for determining how I want to show up for a difficult conversation or where to start on a project, setting intentions has been a great guide for me to reference. It also allows you to slow down and think through the basics. Some great questions that helped to shape my focus are: What do I want? What do I need? How will I do it? What is standing in my way?

Now that our intentions are set, we can focus on defining our goal. I like to find my goal by applying my intentions to what I want to accomplish professionally and personally. Breaking it down this way helped me to align my professional goals such as yearly metrics or job description, allowing me to incorporate any personal growth needed to meet this goal. In defining your goal, it is essential to be as specific as possible so that it is easily understood and quantifiable. For example, my goal was centered around focus. Instead of saying my goal is “to focus” which was too broad to accomplish, I decided on a more concrete version which is to spend less time on tasks or projects that pull my focus from major gift work.

2. Create Boundaries & Hold Yourself Accountable

First and foremost, having boundaries is crucial to your focus. Setting boundaries can be extremely daunting, especially when it comes to enforcing them. The easiest way to set and maintain my boundaries was to align them with my goals. I took a Marie Kondo approach: if a task or project did not align with my goal, I threw it out. Ask, will this help me to accomplish my goal, or will this distract me from it? If your answer is the latter… throw it out!

Accountability is vital to ensuring that you are on track. I find self-accountability difficult as I’m a people-pleaser by nature and tend to push what I need to do to the bottom of my to-do list to accommodate something another person has asked me to do. One way I could hold myself accountable to my goals was through the support of my mentor in the AFP/Alford Group’s Women Impact Initiative Mentorship program. My mentor Chloe and I had bi-weekly check-ins to discuss my goals and the progress that I was making towards them. Not only does a great mentor, like Chloe, hold you accountable, but they are also there to celebrate your wins. Whether big or small, having a mentor helps to keep you motivated and inspired to stay focused. I want to thank the Women’s Impact Initiative Mentorship program for bringing Chloe and I together. It has truly been a life-changing partnership I hope to continue well after our program has ended.

3. Be Curious & Open-Minded

As discussed earlier, I am a lifelong learner, always trying to know more about anything and everything, but this mindset was pulling my focus. In learning to focus, there was a way to still stay curious by asking if what I want to learn, or attend, will help to move the needle toward my goal. For example, let’s say your goal is to engage more with the donors in your caseload. A great learning opportunity would be a webinar about unique ways to engage your donors or one about current donor trends. If instead it was a webinar regarding marketing trends in the digital world, perhaps you’d send the opportunity to a colleague who is in your marketing department instead. Your goal is your driving force for all things. If an opportunity is not aligned with your goal… throw it out!

Also, you want to remain open to what might be in alignment. It can be tempting to automatically say no or reject something because you’re setting a boundary. While yes, we want to be firm in our boundaries, we also do not want to be so closed off that we can’t collaborate with others in a way that could be aligned with our goal. Staying open to the possibilities of something being in alignment instead of automatically shooting it down will help maintain flexibility and ultimately lead to success.

In conclusion, my journey from being a "Jack of all trades" to finding success through focus has been transformative. It's a journey of continuous improvement, but the lessons I've learned have already made a significant difference. Through this work I was able to increase individual donors by 60% at my organization and exceed our individual giving goal by 10% this fiscal year. By setting intentions, defining goals, creating boundaries, holding myself accountable, and staying open and flexible for aligned opportunities, I've discovered the true essence of success – doing more with less. 

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