Gear up to be a productive, happy fundraiser in the new year
Posted December 21, 2016 by Virginia Davidson

Do you ever feel a little burned out in December? The last quarter of the calendar year is an especially busy one for fundraisers, and it’s normal to feel like you’ve run out of steam. With a new year approaching, though, it’s also an opportune time to get organized for the months ahead. Here’s a simple plan to help you gear up for productive, happy fundraising in the new year.

Give your brain a break from thinking about appeals, reports, and all the other details that have been swimming around in your head non-stop. Instead, start by focusing on your physical workspace:

Organize your files. This applies to both your paper files and your digital files. Many of us fundraisers tend to be packrats when it comes to paper – we hang onto old remittance envelopes, slightly-crumpled letterhead, and examples of appeals that we receive from other organizations (we all do it!). Carve out some time to clean up those piles of paper that have accumulated on your desk and around your office, and keep that recycling bin closeby: Aim to eliminate as much unnecessary paper as you can.

When that’s complete, turn your attention to your computer. If your desktop is cluttered with files, spend some time organizing those. Plenty of those files can probably be dragged right into your recycling bin, while others can get moved into folders. Remove as much clutter as you can from that initial screen.

Clean your desk. Even if you’re great about taking your lunch break away from your desk, I’m willing to bet that you ate at your desk at least a few times during the busy holiday season. Take everything off your desk and actually clean it: wipe the surface down, get the crumbs out of your keyboard, and eliminate the dust bunnies. Bonus points if you spend some time cleaning out the drawers of your desk, and culling your collection of pens and pencils – the first pen you pick up is always out of ink, right? Pitch it!

Now that your physical workspace is clear, your head space is probably feeling clearer too. That’s not a coincidence – outer order contributes to inner calm, according to author and happiness expert Gretchen Rubin.  It’s time for you to shift gears and do some reflecting on the past year:

Consider your own highs and lows for the past year: Did you write an appeal letter that was especially compelling and effective? Were you successful in growing your major gift program, or in implementing a more efficient system for membership renewals?  On the other end of the spectrum, maybe there was a fundraising event that didn’t attract as many attendees as expected, or perhaps your quarterly newsletter was consistently behind schedule. Once you’ve identified these highs and lows, it’s important to examine the reasons behind each: what made your appeal letter so effective, and can you implement that strategy for future appeals? Was your fundraising event scheduled at a time of year when every other nonprofit in the community is holding an event? Incorporate these lessons into your plan for the new year.

Identify your most inefficient tasks and think about how you can reduce the inefficiencies. Maybe you’ve never had the time to develop a system for sending acknowledgments, or the printer in your office is old and jams every single time you print envelopes. Invest some time into developing improved workflows and making sure you have the tools and equipment you need to perform your job efficiently.

What do you want to accomplish in the year ahead? Certainly there are financial goals that you need to meet for your organization, but is there a particular skill of your own that you’d like to develop? Perhaps you’d like to learn about planned giving and launch a planned giving program at your organization, or you’d love to become more adept with your organization’s donor management system. Maybe this is the year you want to segment your annual appeal. Your organization may not have money in the budget dedicated to professional development, but there are a lot of free or low-cost resources available online that you can draw from. Identifying and working toward a professional goal of your own is a productive and satisfying way to stay motivated and energized in the year ahead.

As a fundraiser, there’s a lot of responsibility resting on your shoulders as you work to fund the mission of your organization. At year’s end, it’s important to give yourself time to re-charge and gear up for the next twelve months. By prioritizing your own workspace, learning from your experiences over the past year, and identifying a professional goal to work toward, you’ll approach the new year as a happier, more effective fundraiser – that’s good for your organization, and it’s good for you, too!

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