What Every Fundraising Leader Should Do in January


For professional fundraising leaders, the holiday season is the most stressful time of the year. You work longer hours, you’re constantly asking for money, and you’re coaching a team to deliver. It’s the job. A top fundraiser will make dozens of personal solicitations in December. Each one of these requires the expenditure of authentic personal energy. At the end—and with the growth in online giving, the end is now midnight on New Year’s Eve—you’re exhausted.

So, what should you do in January?

1. Make room for rest.

Spend the first week of the year squaring away all the data details and authentic thanks necessary to maintain momentum. Then send everyone away on a 5-day break that doesn’t cost them vacation benefit time. You’ll make those hours back in enhanced productivity and morale, I promise.

Do not use this time to plan out the year. Don’t use it to rewrite your case statement. Don’t use it for anything other than rejuvenating your personal energy. Connect with your body, and with your heart. I like Beethoven, split pea soup and long walks, the kind that clear your head and refresh your body. You do you. You do only you.

2. Refresh your working spirit.

Pick a book to read in January (not during your break) that will give you fodder for thought. The point isn’t to pick up a new technique or learning. The point is to give yourself the space to think deep into the purpose behind your work, and how you are aligning your energy around that work.

Two books I recommend are The Tao of Leadership and The Go Giver.

The Tao of Leadership takes the 81 short sections of the Tao De Ching (the central text of Taoism) and adapts them into short but explicit leadership lessons. The meditations will help you discover how to achieve more by doing less. “Work smarter, not harder,” is a lesson my mom always used to tell me. This book could be summed up: work more authentically, not more vigorously. I keep the copy my first great mentor gave me in my office, and I return to it whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed.

The Go Giver is a modern business allegory popular among c-suite types seeking to create a culture of integrity and generosity in corporate work environments. The regional head of a large American bank gave me my copy, and had purchased copies for his entire 5,000 person workforce. The book lays out “Five Laws of Stratospheric Success.” If you can stomach that kind of language, you’ll quickly discover an argument that success is built on sharing and quality of service, not greed or self-promotion.

3. Make time to listen with love.

When you return from your break, take some time to listen to the people you engage in your work. My immediate suggestion is to treat your favorite three donors to a nice lunch and ask two questions: “What was the most emotionally vivid experience you had with us over the last year?” and “How did you feel we treated you over the last year?” Don’t talk about money at all, except make sure to thank them for their generosity authentically, from your heart, person to person.

Tell your staff to take out their favorite donors and have the company pick up the bill. Have them ask the same questions.

Take your staff out to lunch. Ask them: “What single moment did you enjoy the most from this last year in your work with us?” And, “how do you feel valued as a member of this team?” Treat them to a nice lunch, then give them the afternoon off.

Fundraising is a process that encourages the spirit of generosity wherever it is found. The engine of this process is love. When you share from a place of love, you’re planting a seed that will grow all year.

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