Book review: checklists keep us on track

by guest blogger George Crankovic

Checklist
Like most of us, I think of myself as a capable professional. And that, I discovered, is exactly the problem.

I discovered it in a remarkable book called The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, a doctor and surgeon. (Available at Amazon and Powell’s.)

Gawande explains that most surgeons bristle at the idea of using a checklist. It’s because they see themselves as skilled professionals and people of learning and science. They fail to see how anything as mundane as a checklist could be of any use.

But Gawande gives indisputable proof that checklists work.

Far from being an annoyance, the checklists that Gawande used in his research did three essential things. They helped surgeons deal with the complexity they face in their professions, promoted teamwork with the nurses and anesthetists, and ultimately got the details under control so the doctors could focus on the big picture — helping the patient.

Complexity? Teamwork? Details? Aren’t those exactly the things that we as fundraisers have to deal with? And — be honest — aren’t we bedeviled by them again and again? The humble checklist is the answer.

But, as Gawande cautions, it has to be simple, or it won’t get used. And it has to be specific. One master checklist intended to cover everything won’t be of much help. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at a possible checklist for a typical direct mail appeal. It might go something like this …

Carrier envelope


  • Is the postage correct?
  • Is the corner card address correct?
  • Will it mail?
  • Does it motivate (including the teaser, if there is one)?

Letter


  • Is there an offer and is it clear?
  • Is there a P.S.?
  • Is the recipient clearly told to donate?
  • Is the signer’s name and title correct?
  • Is the letter compelling — would YOU give if it were sent to you?

Response device


  • Is there a clear call-to-action related to the letter content?
  • Is the gift string correct?
  • Is the sending address correct?
  • Are the address, website, phone number, and disclaimers present and correct?

This is just an example of course, and these points may seem simple — but that is the point. One checklist isn’t intended to cover everything. It’s supposed to catch those simple things that trip us up again and again. If you’ve ever sent a mailing with the wrong postage, or if you’ve ever sent a message that was muddled by an unclear strategy, then you know how much havoc so-called simple things can cause.

It’s just hard to believe that something so basic, so obvious, so schoolmarmish can do so much. But it can. The unassuming, unsung checklist. Try it and see.


Comments

4 responses to “Book review: checklists keep us on track”

  1. Dear George,
    Thanks for posting about Checklists. I haven’t read this book but I do think that when we make checklists, we’re committing to do what we know is important.
    We could even break our tasks down into the
    Urgent and Important category, (the mailing! oh yikes!)
    Urgent and Unimportant category, (the email!)
    Not urgent and Important category, (the grant due next month!)
    unimportant and not urgent category (twittering)
    For more checklists on getting a job, fundraising and nonprofit management, see http://wildwomanfundraising.com

  2. Dear George,
    Thanks for posting about Checklists. I haven’t read this book but I do think that when we make checklists, we’re committing to do what we know is important.
    We could even break our tasks down into the
    Urgent and Important category, (the mailing! oh yikes!)
    Urgent and Unimportant category, (the email!)
    Not urgent and Important category, (the grant due next month!)
    unimportant and not urgent category (twittering)
    For more checklists on getting a job, fundraising and nonprofit management, see http://wildwomanfundraising.com

  3. I can’t tell you how many times I have botched an e-Newsletter. Is the subject line correct? Is the “From” address correct? Is the content free of grammatical error? Like you say, these things are simple things that can trip us all up from an eDevelopment perspective.
    – Will
    http://willhull.com/blog

  4. I can’t tell you how many times I have botched an e-Newsletter. Is the subject line correct? Is the “From” address correct? Is the content free of grammatical error? Like you say, these things are simple things that can trip us all up from an eDevelopment perspective.
    – Will
    http://willhull.com/blog

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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