By now, most students are back in school, college football has begun and the leaves are beginning to turn in a few places, no doubt. Adults are putting away the lawn chairs, coolers and summer clothes (or is it now OK to wear white shoes after Labor Day?!) and thinking about the approach of winter (however that plays out in your corner of the globe).
And fundraisers are (or should be) thinking about Dec. 31. After all, it’s about 16 weeks to the end of 2014 and the close of what is generally the most important season of the fundraising calendar.
A well-supplied fundraiser heads back to the office this month with the right tools to make the most of these remaining weeks and ensure a healthy finish to the year in terms of fundraising programs. Here’s what’s in my backpack, so to speak, as I look ahead to the end of 2014.
Yes, just about everything you need to know now is online (as long as we are careful to choose sources that are writing from experience, not hearsay). But taking a longer look at a topic than you will get in an article can help you incorporate the learnings, not just say, “Wow, that’s good — I should do that sometime.”
I admit I am guilty of buying books and not always reading them right away. But I select a book that I feel will fill a gap in my knowledge or add to my experience when I see it, even if I set it aside to read on the next weekend trip or quiet afternoon. Right now, “Retention Fundraising” by Roger Craver is on my desk, waiting to be consumed.
But there are also old standbys that I wouldn’t be without. A favorite reference book that I consult at least twice a week was recommended to me years ago by Tim Kersten ofRobbinsKersten Direct: “Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions” by Harry Shaw. You can still get a used copy onAmazon; I know because I bought one for a colleague just last week. It’s a great source when you can’t remember the difference between emigrant and immigrant, or whether that will affect or effect anything in the long run.
2. A Rolodex, literal or electronic
The person you met at a conference, the former colleague who has moved on or even the person you cold-called a year ago when you had a question may be a great source of information when you face a new situation or a troubling trend. My experience is that fundraisers are among the world’s most generous people in terms of sharing their time and knowledge. Yes, we all “compete” for the same pot of discretionary money, but we also know that we need each other — and the world needs all the other causes as well as ours.
When you need to bounce an idea off someone, pick up the phone and call. (You could send an email, but a call is a nice touch, in my opinion.) Explain what you’re after, following some pleasant conversation to reconnect, of course. (That’s why I like a call; you can build rapport before you leap into your request.) You may get lucky and find out just the information, the example, the referral or whatever you need.
And be ready to get a call on occasion, as well, from someone seeking your advice. It’s a great feeling to know that you may have saved someone from making the same mistake that you are still smarting from.
3. An idea file
Whether you get a regular supply of mail and email appeals because you are an active donor to multiple causes or you subscribe to Who’s Mailing What!, you need a source of inspiration.
When you just can’t figure out how to write an invitation to yet another event, looking at those from other nonprofits can trigger an idea that was buried in the back of your mind somewhere. Reading other appeal letters about fiscal year-end drives or annual campaigns can generate a new way of looking at the same old idea.
Set aside a corner somewhere to store your idea file; it’s likeJames Taylor reminds us, “When you’re down and troubled and you need a helping hand, and nothing, nothing is going right … you’ve got a friend” — your idea file!
4. A fundraising friend
Speaking of friends, you need one. I’m not talking about the person who works with you or the person who knows nothing about fundraising. Yes, you definitely need those. But you also need a friend who is “in the business of fundraising” but doesn’t work at your organization.
Why? This person is a great resource when you have an idea that sounded just great at 2 in the morning, but by 10 a.m. you are wondering if it is more likely an “undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato,” as Charles Dickens memorably wrote.
Last week, I had not one, but two “great” ideas. I emailed my friend and asked her opinion. Her input was excellent in helping me decide if I should move forward.
5. A report card
OK, not literally, but you need a file or an envelope or even a shoebox where you put things you did that you are most proud of. I’ve said it before, and it’s still true — nonprofits often don’t take the time to give credit to people who deserve it. Yes, I know “there’s no ‘I’ in team,” and it’s a group effort, but occasionally, it was your great idea that started the process that led to the ultimate success.
Save it — whatever “it” is. And when you are feeling unappreciated at best and useless at worst, take out your “report card” and look over your past accomplishments. You’ve made a difference. No, you may not have hit a home run yesterday, but you have consistently contributed to the overall success of the organization.
This old dog knows that being your own cheerleader can sometimes be all that makes you keep going after a lousy meeting, a failed project or just the total lack of recognition for a job very well done. Don’t be afraid to take a few minutes to look back at your own successes and remember what made them happen.
Then it’s time to get back to work and find the next success, because our job is never-ending but always worth our very best effort.
Originally published in NonProfit Pro.