The One Folder You Need to Have

When I was a development intern in college, one of my mentors brought me a plain manila folder that she called an "Atta Girl" folder. She said it was for keeping track of the notes and accolades I received and that I should look back through the folder on tough days. I wasn't quite sure what all of that meant at the time, but I trusted her wisdom and dutifully took the folder back to school with me when I returned. This folder has been incredibly important as I have progressed throughout my career. 

Over time, I have created an email folder and a paper folder. In the folders are my formal offer letter for my first job in fundraising, the envelope from the first 7-figure gift I closed, notes from bosses recognizing my efforts and cards from colleagues cheering me on, among other things.

There have been days when I have made mistakes, been rejected, missed a goal. On those days it is easy to forget the many things you have accomplished and how you have helped others. The simple act of reviewing the folder and re-reading the notes provides you with the reinforcement to keep going, try again, learn from the experience and refocus on the big picture. Often it just takes knowing that the folder exists to motivate me. 

As managers, our role is to encourage and empower our staff to be the best versions of themselves. Sometimes even with our best intentions, we can forget about the progress they have made. I keep an "Atta Girl" folder for each member of my team, which I title "Extra Efforts" and add to this folder throughout the year with notes they receive from donors, senior leadership and others. I make it a point to be the one to send many notes to them for their folders, because there is incredible power in knowing that your manager believes in you and your potential. When preparing formal performance evaluations, I have a treasure trove to remind me of the time gone by. In addition to my personal folders for them, I encourage them to maintain their own folders for themselves.

In the last several years, an incredible thing has happened, I started getting notes from direct reports and staff I mentor/sponsor. These are the letters I cherish the most, the ones that remind me of why I choose to lead every day -- the gift of helping others to achieve what they weren't sure was possible.

If you don't already have a folder, I encourage you to start one. Remind yourself that you add value through the work you do and the person you are. Right after you get yourself organized with your new folder, go write a note for someone else's.