5 Things Every Fundraiser Needs to Do in the First Half of January
Amid the chaos of year-end, it can be really challenging to look forward. There is so much to be done and you’ve been pushing hard for months.
I still remember the days of writing thank-you notes until my hand cramped, anxiously reviewing gift reports and busily sending out my last touch points of the year. At this point of the season, it honestly felt like my brain was too exhausted to even think about what would come in January.
I know it feels hard at the moment, but if I could go back and do one thing differently during this time of year, it would be to spend more time planning what I needed to do in the first two weeks of January. Now, I know that may sound a bit boring, but hang on. That beginning part of the month is a crucial and valuable time that can set the stage for your entire year.
Here’s what I recommend doing during those first two weeks of January – but make sure to plan and block time for them now
1. Schedule Time for Self-Care
I just got done saying how tiring the year-end push is, so I had to put this first. Fundraising is such an important job and, if you’re depleted, you won’t be able to meaningfully engage your donors or find joy in your work. This really should be your No. 1 priority as you move into January. Do not bring the hustle and bustle of year-end into the new year with you!
Creating space for self-care is really about finding what fills you up. It doesn’t need to be a large event, although I do highly recommend taking or at least scheduling some time off. It could look like taking 15 minutes every day to be out in nature. Or, maybe you can schedule time with a friend to grab coffee.
Some other great strategies are doing an activity you love, doing some mindful breathing, exercising, watching a funny video, doing something relaxing or pampering yourself a little bit. Whatever it is that works for you, put it on your schedule so that time is secured.
2. Thank Your Team
I’d bet that over the last few months, you’ve had to call in a favor or two from a program coordinator, finance team member, marketing person or someone else on your team. Take a moment to thank them — just like you would thank a donor. Be specific about what you’re thanking them for and, if possible, share the impact of their support. If a program person helped you find a last-minute story to share with your donor, and the donor increased their gift because of how much the story moved them, make sure you share that!
3. Reflect on 2022
Reflection is an important tool so we can learn from our successes and mistakes. It’s important to think about both. What worked? What didn’t work? Don’t shy away from reviewing what didn’t work well or failed. Remember, when we fail, that means we tried something. Failure is part of life. And it’s where you learn the most about yourself and your work.
Ideally, I recommend you block a large chunk of time — at least two hours — and get out of the office to do this. Find your way to a favorite place, like a coffee shop, and make sure it's somewhere you feel inspired — and that it’s a place where you can focus. You may want to create some prompts for yourself or just journal as things come to mind. There’s no wrong way to do this, so keep yourself open to the process and commit to the time.
4. Begin the Caseload Refresh Process
It’s likely that gift processing won’t be fully completed until later in January, but that doesn’t mean that you need to wait to start your caseload refresh. I recommend doing caseload refreshes regularly — at least two times a year. These are valuable times to assess if you have donors that need to move off of your caseload and if you have donors who need to move into a different tier. Then you can prepare to start the qualification process.
If you’re waiting on the year to close out, then prioritize moving donors whose gifts you do know about. For donors who increased their giving and/or became more engaged last year, do you need to move them into a higher tier? Are there donors who didn’t engage or whose giving significantly decreased that need to move down a tier or possibly off your caseload entirely?
5. Start Thinking Transformationally
No matter how big your organization is, I can guarantee you have at least a few donors who could give transformationally. They may not be doing so yet, but you need to start thinking about that as soon as possible. These are not necessarily the wealthiest donors on your caseload. You want to look for the donors who have the capacity for more and are deeply connected to your organization. I recommend focusing on three to five. Most likely, these donors are coming from your highest tier group.
As you start this process, keep in mind that this process can take 18 to 24 months. I typically recommend doing a 12-month communication plan for your donors, so this is taking that strategy a step further.
In your transformational giving plan, you want to be intentional about connecting the donor to the need. You need to really understand the donor’s passions and interests — and the drivers behind them — to accomplish this. You’ll be sharing about the problem and then providing opportunities for the donor to give that are aligned with those. It’s important that you don’t stop asking! Keep asking and continue to present giving opportunities throughout your plan.
The start of a new year is a great opportunity to be creative and think differently about how you connect with your donors. But don’t skip my first point here on self-care. When we’re stretched too thin or overwhelmed, it stifles our creativity and inspiration. So I urge you to see that as a critical priority for your success next year.
Once you’ve taken care of yourself, then you’re ready to focus on the rest of this list and start envisioning what you need to be successful this year. Let yourself dream big and have some wild ideas. When you do, some incredible things can happen.
As you wrap up the year-end fundraising season, I hope you’re inspired by what’s ahead and proud of the work you’ve done.
Happy New Year!
If you like baseball, tennis, golf, Gregorian chant, jazz, rock, good wine and deep conversation, then you’ll like to hang out with Jeff.
If you are passionate about fundraising, Jeff will inspire you to be a true “broker of love” for your donors, helping you bring together a donor’s desire to change the world and the world’s greatest needs. Jeff believes that if nonprofits truly want to grow and obtain more net revenue for their mission, it will come through creating, building and successfully managing major-gift programs. The Connections blog will give you inspiration and practical advice to help you succeed. Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit fundraising experience and is senior partner of the Veritus Group.