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Perfection: The Enemy of Good

By Sarah Sims


I’m guilty. You’re guilty. We’re all guilty of letting perfection become the enemy of good. We let high expectations and striving for perfection lead us down a road of over analyzation, second guessing, and misplaced self-doubt. This is a long-standing battle within my own professional career and something I have spent many years maneuvering. I like things to be exact, conclusive, impactful, strategic, organized, timely…essentially as close to perfection as possible. Balancing this with the reality of our organizations and our industry as a whole, especially now in a pandemic world, is challenging on a good day, and downright demoralizing on a bad day.

Right now, we need to be churning out work. Communicating with donors. Improving processes. Telling powerful stories. Exploring new engagement platforms. Reorganizing and reprioritizing work. This is not the time to be caught sitting back and not proactively engaging because not all of the elements are perfect, or because there are more questions than answers these days. There is no black and white right now – everything is in grayscale as we maneuver workplace challenges, distracted and disengaged donors, reduced resources, and endless task lists.

We cannot let perfection be the enemy of good.

Good work is important right now. It’s critical. It’s what is going to keep us moving, productive, and actively moving our teams and our work forward. Churning out good work, each and every day, every week, every month helps to keep us focused, motivated, and feeling accomplished. I’ve always tried to keep the 80/20 rule in mind – 80% of the time I expect the work my team and I produce to be good. This means we hit deadlines, content is well-written, design is attractive, donors benefit from the activity, overall goals are met, and there are no major hiccups. Things are humming along and working well. But the other 20% of time, we hit it out of the park with work that exceeds expectations, hits an exceptional landmark, or generally pushes the team and the organization forward in a substantial manner.

Good and Perfect are two sides of the same coin – they both are important and needed.

So when I’m getting bogged down and am confusing the two in my day-to-day work (perfection is creeping into every decision), I keep a couple of things in mind to make sure I maintain a healthy balance.

  • Ask myself, will the donor be affected by the decision at hand? Will further edits, more approvals, more tweaks actually make a difference to the donor and his/her experience? Are my changes/edits/reviews adding strategic value? Or it is my personal preference? By switching perspectives and evaluating a communication or initiative from the donor’s lens, I find it easier to “bless and release” items when it’s time to move on.

  • One and done. When reviewing content, evaluating concepts, or giving feedback, I find that if I truly focus and provide detailed and thoughtful suggestions I can avoid the endless cycles of edits, review, and approvals. I am comfortable and confident in the outcomes and feel at ease letting team members own and drive their own work. I strive for tackling things once and moving on. The epitome of inefficiency is touching things more than once. Do it once, do it well, and keep moving. We have fast paced organizations and donors to keep up with – and GOOD work is just as critical as PERFECT work!

Good work still raises money, engages donors, and stewards gifts. Let’s keep that in mind the next time we doubt ourselves or the value and impact of our work.

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