An Open Letter to Fundraisers Everywhere

Avoid Fundraiser BurnoutDear Fundraiser,

Your life right now is deeply unfair.

While everyone else is getting ready for the holidays and taking time off, you and your fundraiser colleagues are:

  • Making calls to follow-up on your end-of-year solicitations
  • Closing that six-figure gift the donor has been talking about since January (or trying to!)
  • Running reports five times a day to see where you are against your goals and to determine who has not yet renewed this year
  • Working with brokers to facilitate securities transfers (my favorite are the brokers who call at noon on December 31st for the transfer information)
  • Drafting that government grant proposal that is horrifyingly due at midnight on the last day of the year
  • Making sure your website is working, the donation pages are up, and all of your emails, Facebook posts, and tweets look great
  • Trying to keep your Executive Director and Board calm while taking care of all of the above
  • Literally hundreds of additional tasks

You’re lonely. You’re stressed. You’re overworked.

In fact, you’re exhausted. But you can’t rest for a second. December is too important. You need to lean in even more to be sure every dollar that can be raised to help your clients comes through your doors.

I totally get it. I’ve been there many times.

And it’s not JUST December. If you’re reading this at some other time, we all know burnout can hit you any time of the year.

What you need right now is to get back your fundraising groove. You need to reach a place emotionally where you can really kick some ass these final few days of the year.

So if you’re feeling like you just want to crunch a candy cane and take a nap under your desk, here are my top three tips for getting a second wind and raising more money than you ever thought possible.

Here’s how to avoid fundraiser burnout and get your fundraising groove back.

Tip #1: Acknowledge Your Hard Work

Open a Word document, or go old school and use a piece of paper and a pen, and write down the ten things you are most proud of fundraising-wise in 2014.

The number “ten” is important.

While most people can easily name 2-3 great moments off the top of their head fundraisers tend to be a pretty self-deprecating bunch so you’ll have to dig deeper to get to ten. Trust me, you have way more than ten great fundraising moments in 2014.

Read the list over a few times, and be proud.

Tip #2: Run the Revenue Number To Date And Celebrate

Get the most current revenue number and clap for yourself. I mean it. Actually clap. Do this regardless of how the number compares to your annual goals.

Remember, raising ANY money to help people in need is a noble achievement. Without your work, people would be hungrier, sicker, more likely to be on the street or in a shelter, with fewer rights, without the proven benefits of arts and culture, with fewer opportunities for education. And on and on.

If you’re way ahead of your goals, huzzah! But even if you’re not… even if your Executive Director or Board is unhappy, know in your heart that so many people are grateful for what you have done for them. Regardless of any arbitrary goals that may have been set a year ago, you have positively impacted real people due to the money you did raise.

Acknowledge that. Celebrate that.

Tip #3: Reconnect With Your Mission

This doesn’t mean reciting your nonprofit’s elevator speech or reading over a pitch letter.

Especially when you are exhausted, you need to reconnect with your mission on a deep personal level. Remember why you chose this organization to dedicate your time and energy.

Time for a quick exercise. Complete the following sentence:

I believe in [name of your nonprofit] because _________________.

Seriously – go do this. It will ground you, invigorate you, and help you remember why you’re here.

Let me give a personal example. Before joining Joan Garry Consulting, I ran development at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the world’s first HIV/AIDS service organization. If I were still there, here’s what my answer would be:

I believe in GMHC because every day I see directly how our work makes the lives of our clients better in countless ways.

Below, I would absolutely love it if you could post your sentence in the comments. Thousands of fundraising professionals read this. They’re in the same boat as you and would be grateful to hear why you fundraise for your organization.

Your turn.

Seth Rosen
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Seth Rosen

Senior Associate at Joan Garry Consulting
With more than a decade of experience raising funds for major nonprofits, Seth now shares his fundraising expertise with readers and clients of Joan Garry Consulting. Seth lives in New York City with his husband, daughter, and two increasingly fat cats.
Seth Rosen
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Latest posts by Seth Rosen (see all)

  • Glennda

    Dear Seth,
    I love this. Thank you for writing it, and thank you to all the nobel Development staff I have been privileged to work with over the years.

    • Glennda. Seth will respond directly later when he comes out of a client meeting but in the meantime, I echo the sentiment. We say it all the time when working with boards, fundraising is a virtuous endeavor. And those who choose the profession are an amazing breed indeed. I wish more people understood that.

      • SethMRosen

        Awww, Glenda, thank you! That means so much to me! Looking forward to seeing you in early 2015!

  • Kevin

    I believe in The Dayton Foundation because ” We Help You Help Others”. We help and support donors for every type of charity in Dayton OH and the surrounding community. Our work helps fill the gaps for so many organizations that do great work.

    • Kevin. This is terrific. “Filling the gaps” is a great way to describe your work. And SO NECESSARY!!!! There are so many gaps. Also wanted to say (because I know you) that it’s also terrific that you moved into the nonprofit world. It suits you! Happy Holidays!!

  • Jessica

    I believe in JDRF because of the great work they are doing to advance technologies like the Artificial Pancreas, technologies that can have dramatic effects on the lives of people living with type 1 diabetes.

    • Regina

      And I’d like to send you a great big “thank you” Jessica for everything that you are doing!!!

    • Jessica. As you work your tail off these next few weeks, know that you are doing such important work. Work that touches my world. My friend’s son is counting on you! JDRF does great work, work that my wife and I support annually because of this great kid.

  • JJ

    Great piece Seth. I really enjoyed reading this and will share with the development staff and leadership at our not-for-profit school.

    • When Seth is back on the grid later today, he’ll weigh in too. Just wanted to say thanks for sharing and when you share, don’t forget to say thank you to them. Fundraisers don’t hear that word nearly often enough 🙂 Happy Holidays!

      • SethMRosen

        JJ, thank you so much! That means so much to me. Happy New Year!

  • Julia Wilson

    I believe in OneJustice because every day our staff and volunteers bring life-changing legal help to poor Californians facing terrible legal problems – including in some of the most rural and remote corners of the state!

    • Legal aid is one of the most life changing services we can offer those around us without access to power and funds. Thanks for all you are doing to bring more legal services to more of the Californians who need it. Happy Holidays!

    • bill holston

      Hey Julia, as a fellow laborer in this endeavor, Great to see you here and thanks for fighting the good fight.

  • bill holston

    This was great. I sent it to my development director with a note to celebrate our year, which has been outstanding. I appreciate the good words.

    • Bill – what a swell idea! Happy Holidays!

      • SethMRosen

        Bill, your Development Director is lucky to have someone as supportive as you. Stay well!

        • bill holston

          thanks for the kind remark Seth, and for the wise words.

  • Shannon

    I believe in Metropolitan Counseling Services because we provide so many adults the opportunity to heal and grow via mental health care services that are scare to find in metro Atlanta, or the rest of our state, on a sliding fee scale. We change their lives by giving them hope.

    • Shannon. Hope is one of the greatest gifts an organization can give to its clients. Your work is noble. Keep that in mind amidst the craziness of these next two weeks.

  • Stacey

    I believe in the Wildling Art Museum because art and nature inspire us, refill our spiritual gas tanks AND create a burning desire to make sure that our natural areas remain that way for future generations! Thank you, Seth and Joan, for a great post!

    • Stacey. Isn’t it great to just take a minute and write it down? To remember why you are frantic this time of year. “Refill our spiritual gas tanks” – LOVE that!

      • SethMRosen

        Stacey, thank you so much, and I love “spiritual gas tanks!” What a fantastic turn of phrase. Have a wonderful New Year!

  • Caryl Mignon Stern

    I loved it – in fact, I am sending it to the entire staff of the US Fund for UNICEF!

    • Caryl. Thanks for loving it. We love what YOU do, what you have done and what you continue to do. Happy Holidays my friend!

      • Caryl Mignon Stern

        Thanks Joan – means a lot coming from YOU! I am getting great response from my team to the letter – they love it too!

    • SethMRosen

      Caryl, thank you so much, that means a lot to me. And thank you so much for what you and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF does. Your work changes the world and is invaluable.

  • I believe in Silver Key Senior Services because we not only provide services that seniors need, we hear their stories, we acknowledge the contributions they have made in their lives, and we allow them to maintain their dignity when they are vulnerable and asking for help.

    • Lorri. I love what you have written. Seniors so want to tell their stories, to be remembered, to know that they matter. Best of luck with your year end fundraising!

  • SethMRosen

    I just wanted to say how much I love reading everyone’s “I believe in” statements. They are so authentic and powerful it is clear to me that your organizations are very lucky to have you on staff. Fundraisers change the world for the better every day and it is a privilege to stand beside you. Happy Holidays!

  • WyaynR

    I believe in Academy of Whole Learning so children with an autism spectrum disorder or intellectual disability can reach their potential and be actively involved in their school community!

    • SethMRosen

      I love this! I have such respect for teachers and others who work in education!

  • I love this letter, Seth and Joan, and I appreciate you sharing it with us!
    I believe in United Way of Henderson County because we are bringing the community together to work on the pressing issues here in Henderson County, North Carolina. Our work is essential, not only to those in crisis at this moment who need our help the most; but also to the long-range vision of what this county can be and what our residents can achieve when we all work together. It warms my heart to see a client like Amber (on our video at move off the street and into her first home; to see our graduation rate rise each year; to see children more prepared for kindergarten; and to see our residents become healthier and stronger. Everything we do together makes a difference!

    • SethMRosen

      Laresa, thank you! The work you are doing at the United Way of Henderson County is very exciting in the way that it touches so many different people of varying ages with different needs. It must be so gratifying to see the results of this work, and I look forward to watching the success of HC2025 (great work with having that in the video). Happy Holidays!

      • Thank you so much, Seth! We consider it a privilege to serve and to work alongside our partners and members of this community. It is very fulfilling. I’m glad you watched the video! The journey to a stronger Henderson County is an exciting one!
        Thanks again and Happy Holidays to you!

  • Patricia Brewster-Willeke

    I believe in the Rural Communities Resource Center because we all work together, board members, staff members, volunteers and program participants to make life better and to help people find the resources that can assist them to become healthy, informed, empowered members of their communities.

  • Ally Baehr

    I believe in Make Way for Books because we have amazing people, doing amazing and much needed work in an amazing community. When I can see children getting excited about a free book, just like they would about the best toy on the shelf, I know what I’m doing is worth every minute.

    • SethMRosen

      Ally, thank you so much for sharing this! Make Way for Books is providing incredibly important resources to the next generation of learners and leaders. You are obviously making real impact in your community. I also love the vibrant colors on your website – they create such an inviting experience to the visitor. Happy Holidays!

      • Ally Baehr

        Thank you Seth…great article and we appreciate everything you do! Happy holidays!

  • Thanks for this post Joan! I started reading your blog this year. I’ve enjoyed learning from you. I am a Major Gift Officer in Pittsburgh. Keep up the great work! Merry Christmas! -Doug Smith

    • Doug – thanks for joining my “tribe” this year and I do hope our post re-energized you for the final fundraising push!! And the comment I loved was that you have “ENJOYED learning from the blog.” Exactly what I hope for!! Happy Holidays!

  • Lindsey

    I believe in Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab Hospital Foundation because kids with disabilities get back to being kids through the care we support.

    Seth and Joan, this was a great letter and the perfect boost for fundraisers at the end of the year. Thank you for posting!

    • SethMRosen

      Lindsey, thank you so much! I was just looking at Holland Bloorview’s website and I am so impressed by the the depth of programs offered. Keep up the great work and have a wonderful New Year!

  • sandra

    I believe in the Lisieux Community because I have seen lives change; women are learning life skills and becoming more confident while displaying a sense of humor.

  • Paul Saltz

    I believe in the Columbus International Program because our training programs bring new skills to developing countries and promoting international understanding is more crucial than ever in our globalized community.

  • MBU’town

    I believe in Family & Children’s Place because abused children need to feel safe, we give them a place where they will be heard and believed.