Year-End Fundraising: Step-by-Step Guide for Nonprofits

October 17, 2019
5 minutes

Burnout. We all face it at one time or another. Fundraisers are especially prone to burnout during and after the busy year-end fundraising season. It makes sense—you’re doing a million+one things at work on top of a buncha personal commitments and you've got the holidays all up in your face. Sometimes it feels like an accomplishment just to make it through to the other side! But we don’t want you to just survive your year-end fundraising season—we want you to thrive.

Thriving through the hectic end-of-year fundraising season all boils down to how you take care of yourself. In other words, how you avoid burning the candle at both ends. We know how tempting it can be to work, work, work, work, work, work, like Rihanna... after all, you’ve got goals to meet! But you gotta ask yourself, at what cost? You don’t want to keep working only to be taken down from dreaded nonprofit burnout.

Today, we want to share some tips and ideas to help you practice self-care during the busiest fundraising time of year. 

How full is your cup now?

As you consider what self-care looks like for you this December and beyond, a good place to start is to ask yourself how you’re feeling right now. Do you feel energized and resilient? Or, are you feeling depleted and a little exhausted? By understanding your current energy levels, you’ll be able to create a self-care plan that doesn't assume you're starting with marathon-levels of energy.

If you’re too tired to even figure out how you’re doing, check out the Burnout Assessment from Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman. Their book "The Happy Healthy Nonprofit" is a great resource for all things self-care.

Start with the basics

When you build out your self-care plan for year-end fundraising, map out your minimum requirements to thrive. These are your basic needs on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Consider them your non-negotiables.

What could be on your non-negotiables list? Here are a few standard ones we like to live by:

  • Sleep, like 7 to 8 hours each night
  • Drink more-than-enough water
  • Eat 3 meals a day (ok, sometimes more)
  • Schedule weekly time with friends or family
  • Sneak in a workout (yes, dancing in the living room counts)
  • Make time for creative hobbies (like joining a cross-stitching club)
  • Read for fun (how 'bout a cheeky thriller or salacious biography?)

Practice setting boundaries

Wanna know one of the best things you can do for yourself? Set boundaries as a way to express your preferences for how you want to live and interact with others.

Is it even ok to set boundaries at work? We've got to be team players, yes? Well, boundaries prevent you from over-committing, from ending up in situations that unnecessarily frustrate you, and they help you stay satisfied with your job.

As you evaluate your work, think about how that environment, may be causing you to move out of your comfort zone and into your panic zone. For instance, maybe your week is already super full and a colleague asks you to attend a meeting on Thursday. Rather than just saying yes, you can pause and ask if it’s 1) necessary for you to be there, and 2) if the meeting could be moved to the following week, or 3) canceled altogether (!) and handled via email.

Setting boundaries year-round, and especially during December, will help keep you sane and thriving during busy times.

Take screen and desk breaks

We’ve all had those days when we sat down at our desk to start work and then we look at the clock to find that hours have passed, we’re starving, and need to move our body before it becomes one with the chair. Yeah, that’s not a great habit. It’s good for your mental and physical wellbeing to take screen and desk breaks.

If you’re not great about taking breaks, add them to your calendar with a reminder or set an alarm to remind you to take a break. We like using the Pomodoro Chrome extension because it reminds us to take a short break every 25 minutes. Whatever tool you use, make sure you walk away from your desk, grab some water, maybe even go for a walk around the block. You’ll come back refreshed and ready to go again.

Take time off

Look, we get it. Year-end fundraising is like juggling a million balls. Some of which are on fire. It’s a lot. And so it’s tempting to let work creep into your weekends or vacation time. That’s a no go, fundraiser! You need time off to rest and recharge. 

If you find it difficult to take time off from work, we’ve got a couple of tips for you. 

  1. Plan activities that you look forward to and want to do. This could be time for your favorite hobby, happy hour with your besties, or maybe just time to watch Netflix.
  2. Temporarily take your work email off your phone. This idea may sound bananas, but hear us out. If seeing emails from colleagues stresses you out or infringes on your ability to rest, remove the temptation by taking your email off your phone for the weekend.
  3. Find an accountability buddy. Sometimes it’s easier to do hard things when you have a friend keeping you accountable. Tell someone you trust that you’re trying not to work during a specific period of time and ask them to check in with you to see how it’s going.

Accept that it doesn’t always go perfectly

One sure-fire way to lead yourself down the path to burnout is perfectionism. It’s tempting to put this kind of pressure on yourself, but being committed to perfection for perfection’s sake won’t get you very far. In fact, it’s likely to make you overworked and more stressed out. There are a lot of bumps in the fundraising road. The more you can accept that this is part of the work and be flexible, the less likely you’ll be to cling to perfectionism. 

Fundraiser, we know how hard your work is. Making it to December 31st can feel like a major accomplishment—because it is! We hope you find some time this year to celebrate your accomplishments and treat yo’ self to some self-care. You majorly deserve it.

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