How I Start My Perfect Day: A Guest Blog by San Diego Zoo Global’s Development Leader

Read Time: 4 minutes

Mark-Stuart-CircleMark Stuart serves as Chief Development and Membership Officer of San Diego Zoo Global and President of the Foundation for San Diego Zoo Global. We asked him to reflect on how he starts his morning on a day when everything goes right. Read on for his reflections—and some inspiration for your daily routine.  

My perfect day begins at 4:45pm the previous day. This is when, no matter how crazy or hectic the day might have been, I take time to clear my desk and update my Stephen Covey to-do list (author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) for the following day.

Clearing the desk is as important as clearing my head. It allows me to come in the next morning and not face the calamities of yesterday. As for Stephen Covey, I’ve been a fan ever since my graduate school days.

My Covey to-do list features four easy-to-remember blocks:

  High Urgency Low Urgency
High Importance Do it now—my fires

Decide when to do it—the “move the needle” stuff

Low Importance Delegate it—not worth my time Personal things, space to doodle, and take notes—nothing else should be here!

The to-do list is never more than one page. I print and attach the page to a clip on my main computer screen. The biggest section is, of course, “High Importance and Low Urgency.” If I am doing my job right, this is where I spend most of my time and will be most impactful for San Diego Zoo Global.

When I leave the office, I will take some reading home (tonight, the Forbes’ Billionaires issue) or documents that need proofreading or editing. Usually nothing more than one hour of homework.

The next morning, one of my everyday fixtures of getting ready for work is asking myself, usually while on the dog walk, “What am I going to do today to make my boss a hero?”

Decades ago, I listened closely to Bill McGoldrick, one of the legends of fundraising, during a talk to youngish annual giving officers gathered together for a conference at Bryn Mawr College. I do not remember everything that Bill mentioned, but this one stuck.

Mark-Stuart-CalloutHe recounted a story of meeting with university trustees on a Friday regarding the launch of a capital campaign. The trustees were so enthusiastic; they told Bill he had to pull together a convincing PowerPoint presentation for a full Board meeting on Tuesday to move this campaign plan ahead.

The only problem was that this was the early 1990s, PowerPoint was created in 1987. Bill had no idea how to get started. He came back to the college campus and shared his story of woe. A young staffer said, “Don’t worry, tell me what you want in the presentation, and I’ll have it ready on Monday.”

Bill did so and left relieved for the weekend. He came back to the office on Monday and found his rather bleary-eyed staffer waiting for him. He said, “I completed the presentation. Do you want to check it out?” Bill loved what he saw and asked the staffer how long he had been skilled at PowerPoint.

The staffer replied, “I didn’t know anything about it until this weekend. But I couldn’t let you fail.” McGoldrick shared that story as an example of how someone made him a hero, and he never forgot that. That is what I try to do for my boss every day, and this life lesson has served me well for 20+ years.

At the office, I come in to a clean desk and clean start to my day. I huddle with my assistant, Sara, who makes my life so easy. She makes sure to block at least two hours a day to ensure I have time to work and not just meet. Our agreement is that I do not touch my calendar. It is all hers.

Between Stephen Covey, Bill McGoldrick, and Sara Graef, I am usually set up to have a great day.


Campbell & Company worked with Mark and his team to plan for and carry out San Diego Zoo Global’s first-ever comprehensive campaign, which coincided with the Zoo’s centennial and exceeded its $400 million goal. To learn more about our work, explore our case studies.

Fundraising, West Region, Guest Blog

Mark Stuart

Mark Stuart is Chief Development and Membership Officer of San Diego Zoo Global and President of the Foundation for San Diego Zoo Global. Mark leads a staff of 65 focused on fund-raising, friend raising, and government relations. His team is in the final year of a $500 million fund-raising campaign called Roaring Forward. Gifts and pledges already top $470 million.

Prior to joining the Zoo, Mark served as Associate Dean for the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Mark received his Masters degree from McDaniel College in Maryland and a Bachelor’s degree from Albion College in Michigan. In addition to his work with non-profit organizations, Mark is a frequent teacher and lecturer on fundraising best practices.

Mark, his husband, Tim, and their two dogs live in San Diego’s Point Loma neighborhood near Shelter Island.

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