We all have said and thought it – 2020 was a year like no other.
As we enter a New Year, I can think of 5 useful things we fundraisers can do in January that can help our respective missions move forward.
1 – Take Time to Catalogue Last Year
The year-end rush to submit final reports or to close out the year still feels as if it is with us…like the chilling effect of a freezer door closing after a spelunking exhibition for holiday leftovers. Entering the office in January for most of us means a big administrative lift awaits, inclusive of thank you letters and many other follow up correspondence to donors. This work can be cold and mechanical, but if we take time to flag important observations (such as recurring donors or donors who gave a bit more in 2020 in the face of the pandemic) for senior leaders to note – either on the thank you letter or in separate conversation – this can help to bring extra care and purpose to the task.
Another thing to remember: celebrate wins from 2020. After a tough year, it is unfair to pretend the hardship was not present. Acknowledging the challenges is both healthy and fair. However, if a teammate took significant efforts to step up or if a program colleague thought about a creative program that helped to address an emergent need…these efforts are indeed worth celebrating (ie in company emails, in a 1-1 zoom call or in a thank you note). Its also important to take the time learn from the losses…a loss can be an experienced gift that teaches lessons for future reference…but it takes discipline to realize those lessons in after action reviews, performance reviews, or other intentional moments…even taking the time to ask “how did that campaign go?” in a team meeting can help to trigger useful feedback and lessons.
2 – Take Time to Say Hello
From #GivingTuesday through December 31st, donors most likely were overwhelmed with requests for funding or support. Those requests typically fall silent in January. You and your team can fill the void with a gratitude campaign. “Just reaching out to say hello” is the perfect message to lead into in 2021 as it shows that your donors are more than an ATM. This is also a good time to break the ice with donors who may have lapsed in the giving season. Thinking about foundations or corporate partners, you may want to use the first days of the New Year to reach out to both long-standing friends and new ones alike. Introductory or check-in calls can both be useful to longterm relationship building that is sometimes lost in the mechanics of proposals and appeals.
3 – Map Out the Year or the First 90 Days
Strategic plans help to map out 2-3 years of activity of your organization. However, if 2020 taught us anything, we learned about the importance of adaptability and resilience. That said, coordinating calendars and team meetings around the first few weeks of the year can be useful so there is a shared roadmap and schedule for staff energy.
4 – Be Flexible
Even though a roadmap can be useful, it is important to remain flexible (a common theme between the 3rd and 4th point of this blog). There are some foundations, especially at the local level, who have redesigned giving programs to respond to local needs in the wake of COVID-19. These funds are sometimes administered in strategic waves with the hopes of addressing needs as they arise or updating programs to adapt to unforeseen realities. Be disciplined. Be able to respond to these opportunities so that your proposals align with your mission but also allow you to pursue partnerships you may not have imagined before.
5 – Take Stock of Technology/Rally the Team
One of the best allies in fundraising can be your board of directors and your senior leadership. Having senior leaders broker meetings, lead introductory meetings, or even make the “ask” can be a tremendous asset to any fundraiser’s tool kit. Do your senior leaders know about the priority programs of 2021? Can they speak about them with ease? If your senior leaders created a financial goal for your team to reach in 2021, a follow up question would be if your team has the appropriate tools to meet that goal. Are senior leaders willing to:
co-sign a shared vision,
help to present the vision to their network,
help to identify potential donors/audience that would receive the vision,
and help to hold not only fundraisers accountable but also peers to adopted goals?
(Bonus item) – 6 – Show Grace
Of course, there are several other things to think about as we dust off the log-in credentials, return to our remote desks, gas up our zooms, and re-focus on our mission-work. If we are nonprofit leaders, one of the best tips we can remember is to show self-care. Self-care cannot just be a buzz word our HR departments echo over our ear buds as we type towards our busy days. Showing self-care (blocking time on the calendar for a break, blocking time on the calendar between meetings to assure you have time to rest/grab a cup of joe/take a quick walk outside, strategically blocking time out to think, etc.) can also help your teams to do the same and to make the most of the first days of 2021.