By April Walker, nonprofit executive leader
… in a year as tumultuous as this one, give yourself a break.
Fundraiser, tell me, have you smiled today? With so much to accomplish in the final few weeks of the year, I am willing to bet your self-care has gone out the window. For those of us who may feel battered and bruised due to the repeated blows 2020 dealt, the pressure of year-end fundraising can take our exhaustion and stress to new heights. We have volunteers to thank, dollars to raise, and donations to process.
Best case scenario, you have a collaborative team and a robust donor pipeline.
More likely, you are understaffed, wearing multiple hats, and reeling from whiplash, from 2020’s twists and turns.
And then there is the fact that year-end fundraising is busy by design. Our tax codes have guaranteed as much, and our donors know it too. I spoke to one donor who received 150 emails on Giving Tuesday alone. Evidence of our feverish and steadfast impact perhaps, but also a humbling reminder that the system we operate within, though well intentioned, often pits us against one another and creates busy work that could yield little to no return.
So as Dec. 31 approaches, I am increasingly convinced that year-end fundraising is a lie. Not a falsehood at its core, but an untruth in that it requires something extraordinarily different to succeed. Of course, I know the popular and widely touted stats — at least 31% of all giving occurs in the month of December and 12% specifically occurs in the last three days of the year.
But while we may increase the cadence and urgency of our appeals or resort to stalking the mailman with hopes that he is carrying checks in tow, we are nonetheless still writing, engaging, developing, and soliciting. These are the same functions we carry out January through November. I see little to gain from living in frantic anticipation of the clock striking midnight on New Year’s Day. We know this, and we do this. We can and should breathe and relax through it.
So sure, the pace of year-end fundraising can be intense, but I invite you to join me in striding through the remainder of the year. Whether your campaign launched later than hoped or if you are on pace to exceed your goals, in a year as tumultuous as this one, give yourself a break. Burnout is all too prevalent in our field. Year-end fundraising does not have to be something we simply survive and endure. We all deserve to slow down and trade our stress for serenity.
5 self-care tips to navigate your year-end fundraising woes
1. Clear your mind.
Your clarity of mind is your greatest asset. Staying crystal clear about what you do is the best fundraising strategy of them all. Remember: You facilitate change. You advocate for those in need. You build bridges to the equitable world that we want to live in.
Chasing dollars alone is short-sighted. Our work is relational, and our humanity needs to remain centerstage.
2. Trust your instincts.
Your inbox is undoubtedly clogged by a barrage of experts offering “10 Email Templates to Boost Year-End Fundraising” or “5 Must-Read Tips to Maximize Year-End Support.” While there may be some gems inside, there is no better time to trust your gut. Rely on what you know to be true about your donors and about your mission. Pick only what you need and stay the course.
3. Find a community of fundraisers who speak your language.
You do not need to draft your appeal or design your marketing campaigns in a silo. If you have cultivated a community of fundraisers, check on them. Bounce around ideas and celebrate their fortitude, not their fundraising progress. Be generous with your ideas and strategies.
If you do not yet have a tribe, consider building one! Someone somewhere could benefit from your partnership and collaboration.
4. Know you have done well.
Surely the plans you made for 2020 were established pre-pandemic, in a world that barely resembles where we reside in now. We can all add “adept at fundraising in a pandemic” to our resume. That, alone, is a new skill. Be proud that we’ve developed new fundraising muscles that will need to be flexed for the foreseeable future.
5. Treat self-care as resistance.
In this final stretch of the year, let the dollars roll in as they may. Continue speaking the abundant language of gratitude. Continue unleashing the power of philanthropy as best as you know how.
The mere notion of Black and Brown people taking a reprieve is revolutionary.
Remember that you are as deserving of advocacy, rest, and support as the people you are on the philanthropic front lines working hard for. Do not forego your lunch hour, be intentional about the media you consume, and try to get plenty of rest.
Especially in this year, self-care is not prescriptive. Whether you choose yoga, hot baths, buying a Peloton, or eating a double cheeseburger, know that caring for yourself first and foremost will best guide you through checking items off your to-do list.
The hours until Dec. 31 are finite and fleeting. What is lasting is how you show up for yourself and the way you treat yourself with kindness, respect, and love. Year-end fundraising does not need to be a rat race. It need not be a vicious cycle of desperate appeals and transactional communication. It is of equal if not greater importance that we take the time to ask donors about their holiday plans and extend gratitude to our colleagues, especially those keeping programs and services afloat in the midst of a global pandemic.
As the beloved Toni Morrison taught us, “You are not the work you do. You are the person you are.” In this final stretch of the year, let the dollars roll in as they may. Continue speaking the abundant language of gratitude. Continue unleashing the power of philanthropy as best as you know how. Do not diminish or narrow your impact, success, and capabilities to what occurs between now and Dec. 31.
Year-end fundraising stands on the groundwork you laid throughout the year. So, if you made it this far, welcome to the finish line.
April Walker (she/her) is nonprofit leader and fundraising professional. Her career in philanthropy spans seven years and includes fundraising, consulting, and grantmaking positions at the American Heart Association, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago, CCS Fundraising, VNA Foundation, and Iris Krieg & Associates, a Chicago-based philanthropic advisory firm. Born and raised in Baltimore, April’s background in social service administration informs her commitment to advancing philanthropy rooted in racial equity and social justice. She currently serves as chief development officer for a workforce development nonprofit in Cleveland, Ohio and is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Cleveland Chapter. She also serves on the boards of Progressive Arts Alliance and the Akron Community Foundation’s Gay Community Endowment Fund. Connect with her via LinkedIn or by email.