What does it really mean to work in your stretch zone?

Uncategorized Mar 21, 2021

I’m sure you are all familiar with the comfort, stretch and panic zone. In my career I’ve worked in all three and I am pleased to say that I’m currently working in the stretch zone and it feels good. First let me share what it feels like to be in the other zones.

 My first paid job was a trainee direct marketing role for a large development charity. It included one year in the legacy team and one in the acquisition team. I had just come from two years in a volunteer marketing and PR role where I had autonomy and was producing newsletters, developed the web site and ran events. To my surprise the new role was way within my comfort zone and I didn’t have enough work to do. There is nothing more demoralising than trying to make one task to last a morning. You feel undervalued, demotivated and disengaged.

 I’ve also worked in the panic zone. When I took on a Head of Fundraising role there were times when I was in way over my head, the workload was too much and I didn’t have the support around me. I found myself constantly firefighting and quickly stress and anxiety built up.

 Now as someone who has taken the step to set up my own business, I am trying to be really conscious of working in my stretch zone. Every day there are tasks that I am not completely comfortable with, perhaps I don’t have all the knowledge or experience but I am forcing myself to learn, seek advice from others and try new things. I now know that working in your stretch zone builds resilience which is a strength that all freelancers and fundraisers need.

 Over the past few months I have really enjoyed mentoring a new fundraiser. Each day, as a sole fundraiser in a charity that is starting out on its fundraising journey, he is using his skills and experience and adapting that to new things. He is testing and learning, asking questions, seeking feedback and is hungry to learn more from me, his boss and formal training opportunities. It is a joy to work with someone who is pushing to be in his stretch zone. But sadly, so many fundraisers are not working in their stretch zone.

In my work supporting teams to become the best they can be one of the key themes I talk about is GROW – working in your stretch zone is all about growing. Shifting your mindset to see each day as an opportunity to learn and develop. Now, more than ever before, in fundraising we need to have teams who have a growth mindset and are working in their stretch zone. If we want to challenge how we engage with supporters, change our approach or products and innovate we need teams that are willing and able to think differently and step out of their comfort zones.

My top tip to help you and your team move into the stretch zone.

Challenge of the week- Ask you team to each set a challenge of the week. So rather than talking about priorities or goals help your team to identify one thing they are going to do each week that is a challenge or stretch. Then collectively identify how other members the team can help them accomplish that challenge. At the end of the week feedback to see how their challenge went, what they learnt and what they will do differently. This helps the team to see challenges or tasks that they are not familiar with as normal and to share openly and seek support from others to help everyone become the best they can be.


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