The One Folder You Need to Have

When I was a development intern in college, a mentor 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 I should look back through the folder on tough days. Though unsure what all of that meant, I trusted her wisdom and dutifully took the folder. It has been incredibly important as I have progressed throughout my career. 

Over time, I have created email and paper versions. 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.

On the days you make a mistake or get rejected, 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 previous year. In addition to my 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 didn’t think 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.