I recently attended a parent workshop at my child’s future high school (she’s in 8th grade this year – last year of middle school) on executive function.

In the context of middle and high school, executive function refers to skills around: writing down homework assignments, turning in homework, organizing schoolwork, planning and scheduling long-term projects, knowing when you need to meet with your teachers, prioritizing multiple projects, etc.

My child is a deeply gifted, creative, sparkly soul. She’s whip smart, and she is doing a fantastic job in school this year. Executive function is not her strong suit.

The leader of this parent education session (from a company that provides coaching in executive function to middle and high school students) said something that really struck me. She talked about how high school is a time in life when you are expected to be good at everything. In high school, you have to take math, and science, and English, and foreign languages. You are expected to have the social skills to walk into a chaotic, clique-filled cafeteria at lunchtime and not fall apart. You are expected to advocate for yourself with your teachers. You are expected to be part of a family and contribute to family life. But… the adolescent brain is still developing, and it is not ready for all of these expectations. It can’t be good at everything.

There are so many layers to unpack here, from a personal, professional, and communal standpoint. From a professional standpoint, I think about fundraisers who are working at small(er) nonprofits; fundraisers in small development shops at larger nonprofits; or, professionals at tiny nonprofits who are expected to handle everything.

You can’t be good at everything.

But that doesn’t change the fact that you may be expected to be good at everything.

So, what’s a fundraiser to do?

There’s no easy answer, but I think it helps to:

  1. Know what your strong suit is.
  2. Play to your strengths.
  3. Call in reinforcements for the areas that are not your strong suit.

Great at connecting with people one-on-one, but not so great at writing? Go out and meet with potential donors. Set up coffee or lunch dates with current donors, and ask for their advice. Leave the grant writing to a colleague, or ask them to help you with your grant proposal, or take an online writing course, or check out the Small & Mighty Membership Program (which includes lots of grant writing tips), or sign up for the PITCH, LLC mailing list (and get a free list of 20 Things to Never Write in a Grant Proposal).

Great at organizing files, calendars, etc., but not so great with numbers? Set up the donor stewardship and cultivation calendar for your office. You’ll be the one to who makes sure your organization never misses a report or proposal deadline. Someone else (A colleague? A board member?) will be in charge of compiling budgets, or helping you compile budgets.

In a small office, it might seem like you have nowhere to turn when you need additional support, but there are resources out there:

  • A colleague at your organization
  • A board member at your organization
  • An online course
  • Someone at another organization who is part of your trusted professional network
  • Your local association of nonprofits or other networking group
  • Your local library (which not only has helpful books, but also can point you towards other community resources)
  • LinkedIn or Facebook groups where you can post questions
  • A college, where undergrads or graduate students with certain skills might be looking for volunteer opportunities in order to build their resumes

Once you understand what you do best, you can figure out where you’re going to be most effective, and you can create a plan around playing to your strengths while building skills in other areas. When available resources are limited, it’s even more important to make the most of what you’ve got.