Nine Ways to Beat Burnout Even This Year

Nine Ways to Beat Burnout, Even This Year

If you’ve been through a pregnancy — even if only via a partner or family member who was pregnant — you know just how long nine months can be.

It’s a taste of eternity.

And not the good kind.

So when I note that most of us have been in pandemic for nine months now, that pretty much explains how we’re feeling.

“Okay,” we’re thinking, “this can end any moment now. Please?”

For many of us, we’ve gone through all kinds of stages of adjusting to the crisis. Full of energy at first, then fading and losing that sense of purpose.

The nonprofit space is well-known for being under-staffed and often poorly managed. That’s why many of us — maybe including you — are now facing burnout.

And it’s rough.

Many people throw around the term burnout a bit too easily.  “I’m burned out,” often means, “I’m stressed out.”

Stress and burnout are closely related to each other. Being stressed over time can lead to burnout.

But the difference between being stressed and being burned out: When you’re stressed out, you can imagine feeling better. You can picture a state where you get things under control and get back to a more comfortable state. Stress is uncomfortable, but it’s a normal part of life. It comes and goes.

When you’re burned out, you are beyond that hopefulness. You can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. You feel mentally exhausted. Empty. You have no motivation, and you can’t make yourself care. You become less able to take care of yourself or others. You almost don’t feel like yourself.

Burnout is not “normal.”

It’s somewhat like being depressed. It’s really a kind of emergency that you need to deal with right away if you’re facing it.

So if you are feeling stress, and you’re worried you may be approaching burnout (or already there) here’s your first step: Talk to someone. A professional if possible, or a wise and helpful person in your life. Do your best to determine whether you’re burned out or stressed and on your way to burnout.

If it’s burnout, take action now.

Drastically change things, now. Stop working for a while. Get help.

Basically, your emotional house is on fire. You cannot ignore it!

If you aren’t there yet, get serious about preventing burnout. It’s much easier to prevent it than to get out of it.

Here are some things you should do:

Look at your work situation

Do you put in a ridiculous number of hours week after week without relief?  We can all handle major surges of work. It can even be energizing. But when abnormal becomes normal, you’re heading for trouble.

Beyond overwork, the other thing that can get you is a bad work environment. If you feel unappreciated, under-compensated, consistently doing things above or below your skill-set, always putting out fires, in a highly political or fear-based environment … you are heading toward burnout.

I realize that previous sentence is pretty much the official job description for many fundraising jobs. That’s a real problem, and we as an industry need to change that. But the urgent thing for now is this: you need to change it for yourself. You may need to leave that job, because it is basically killing you. And you’re not doing anyone a favor if you’re getting killed by a crappy work environment.

Here are nine things you need to be aware of to prevent burnout and keep yourself healthy, productive, and at top performance”

1. Boundaries

Discover the power of the word “no.” Your service mentality is commendable, but you have to have limits. Have times and days when you don’t work and don’t answer email. Remember, when you don’t have boundaries, you are in danger of crashing — and you’ll be no help to anyone if that happens!

2. Sleep

Give yourself the time you need to sleep. It’s probably seven to nine hours. It’s important!

3. Exercise

Physical activity can make all the difference, and most of all when you feel too busy to take the time. Try to walk, run, or ride a bike every day — or find some other way to exercise.

4. Food

Fast food has only one advantage: Speed. That’s why we often default to unhealthy eating in busy times. Make sure you’re eating well, especially plenty of fruit, vegetables, and nuts.

5. Meditation

There are a lot of ways to meditate, and there’s no “perfect” way. Just do it. If you follow a faith tradition, you most likely have a practice that is meditation, even if it’s called something else. Giving yourself time to meditate, even just a few minutes a day, can be transformative and pay back big time in energy and quality of life.

6. Relaxation

Unstructured, “doing nothing” time is also critical. That means reading, walking, even just sitting around. Make sure you have some time every day set aside for doing nothing. If you don’t schedule it, it won’t happen!

7. Talk about it

Being open and honest about the stress you face and the danger of burnout really helps you combat it. Make sure you have trusted friends, colleagues, family members, or others you can talk with. Chances are, they are in the same situation as you, so you’ll be helping others.

8. Technology breaks

Put the damn phone down! The convenience of always-on technology comes at a price. Try to spend at least an hour of the day when you aren’t looking at any screens.

9. Creativity

Find some kind of activity that fills your soul and gives you joy. Writing, drawing, photography, making music. These things refill your tank and give you energy. This is especially important if you don’t get fulfilment from your day-to-day work.

The important thing is this: You have to take care of yourself. You owe that to yourself — but also to the people around you, including your employer. It’s not easy, it doesn’t come naturally to many of us … but it’s necessary!

Share your experience with stress and/or burnout in the comments below, or at one of our Facebook communities: The Fundraisingology Lab (members only) or The Smart Fundraisers’ Forum (open community).

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CFRE Points:
5 Ways Charitable Giving Is Good For Donors5 Ways Charitable Giving Is Good For Donors
Donor LoveDonor Psychology

5 Ways Charitable Giving Is Good For Donors

I lost my Mom to Parkinson’s disease.

It was a long and terrible struggle. Toward the end, I was her caregiver. I watched helplessly as the disease took more and more of her away — from herself and from the rest of us.

It’s over now. I’m thankful she no longer struggles in a ruined body and a darkened mind.

Yet it’s not over. My heart still aches over the torment she suffered. I wish I’d spent more time with her. I regret that I wasn’t with her the night she died.

I fucking hate Parkinson’s disease.

But there’s a way I can strike back. I can defy Parkinson’s. I can give it the finger. I can even take back some of what it stole.

I can give to a nonprofit organization. They’ll take my money, even a small amount, and fight Parkinson’s disease. They’ll help people who have it now. They’ll fund research into better treatments. And maybe, someday, they’ll find a cure—so Parkinson’s can never take anyone else down that terrible road.

All it takes for me to move from defeat to victory is to give away some money. It’s the best deal I can think of.

And it works when I give to causes that were close to my mother’s heart, like classical music or education. In fact — and here’s the amazing part — I get the same positive effects no matter what causes I support. Even causes that have no connection to her.

Giving is giving. It has that power.

My brush with Parkinson’s disease isn’t special or unusual. We all face things that break our hearts, make us feel angry or helpless. Giving doesn’t erase the pain, but it re-orients us. We become less the victim, more in control. Wiser, and less wounded. It can ease our grief, revive our hope, and give us strength to face affliction, wrath, danger, and distress.

If you’re a fundraiser, never forget the power you put in the hands of your donors when you present the opportunity to give. It’s not just a monetary transaction.

And if you think you’re taking something away from donors when you receive their gifts, you’re missing the main point about what giving is and what it does. I know fundraisers who are almost ashamed of their work. They equate it with begging or even scamming, as if they’re getting the better of donors in some barely tolerable way. As if their only defense for getting money away from donors is the sad argument that the end justifies the means.

Anyone who feels that way simply isn’t paying attention to what donors get in the deal.

Here’s what your donors get out of giving …

Giving raises consciousness

Fundraisers often say things like “If only we could get the word out about how serious our cause is. Then more people would care, and more people would donate.”

Actually, it’s the other way around. When people donate, they care more and understand more.

When you give to a cause, you immediately begin to care more about it. You pay more attention when it’s in the news. It gets more concrete and important in your mind. That leads to other kinds of involvement—like volunteering, advocating, and spreading the word.

If you want to change the world in a meaningful way, I can’t think of a better way to start than getting people to care with an act of charity as the first step. That’s a lot more effective than trying to drum a new way of thinking into their unwilling heads.

Beyond that, research shows that donors are dramatically more likely to commit all kinds of good deeds, like returning lost wallets, giving up their seat to older passengers on crowded buses, or giving blood. Donors are more kind, compassionate, and active than non-donors. When you ask them to give, you support their habit of virtue.

Giving creates happiness

Charitable giving stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain, the same way eating and sex do. Yes, giving is that primal. It’s built into the core of our being. Part of what it is to be human is to freely give away some of what you have.

Social science research shows that donors are 43% more likely to say they’re “very happy” than non-donors. This happiness comes from several sources:

  • The well-documented “warm glow” of altruism that comes with the release of dopamine in the brain when people give.
  • A more positive self-image. Donors see themselves as better people, as more in control. Donors can say, “There’s pain and chaos everywhere, but I can take a stand and do something about it!” No doubt for the same reason, donors are generally perceived by themselves and by others as leaders.
  • A sense of balance, because it’s a way for people to give back some of what they’ve received. We all owe deep debts to the many people who have helped us through life. We can’t possibly pay back those debts, but we can pay forward.

Giving improves health

Probably because of all those psychological benefits, giving also promotes physical health. Donors are 25 percent more likely to say their health is “excellent” or “very good” than non-donors.

Giving is financially beneficial

Here’s the fact about giving that may surprise you: research shows that charitable giving has a return on investment of 3.75 to 1.

For every dollar given to charity, the donor eventually gets $3.75. Beat that in the stock market! A causal link is impossible to establish, but the correlation is clear: people who give to charity end up financially better off.

Giving makes the whole world just a bit better

Think for a moment about the impact charity has on society. Not just because of the important causes it funds, but because of the millions of healthier, happier, more involved donor-citizens it empowers. The whole world is better because of those donors and the way they live. If charitable giving weren’t happening, our world would be darker and bleaker, more broken and brutal.

Fundraising is where it starts.

So next time you feel like a pesky panhandler, or you hear a colleague say you’ve got to cut back on your messaging because it’s harming donors, stop. Take a breath. Remember what giving means for donors.

And be thankful that you’re part of something so transforming and powerful.

Want to connect with other fundraisers on what your work means to you and your donors? Join our free Facebook community, the Smart Fundraisers Forum.

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Boo! 6 Things that Should Scare Fundraisers on Halloween

When Halloween rolls around each year, we see that interesting human impulse to scare ourselves — and others.

So people dress up as zombies, monsters, and aliens. (Others dress as princesses or astronauts, which are probably not meant to be scary.)  People pay to walk through “haunted houses” full of scary situations. We watch more scary movies than usual.

Ready to get into the spirit of Halloween? Here are some super-scary things for fundraisers:

Data problems

Bad data is just about the worst things that can happen to a fundraiser. It can kill your fundraising in the most gruesome and terrifying ways. It can cause you to lose track of your donor’s interactions with you. It can cause you to misspell their names or send multiple copies of the same thing — making it look like you don’t have a clue.

Bad data can make you talk to donors you didn’t mean to talk to. Or ignore donors you should be talking to. Or say ridiculous things to them, like “Thank you for your generous donation of $0.” (True story!)

Make sure all your data is clean, complete, and accurate. Make it a priority to keep it clean. And be sure you’re using a database that works. This is one area where bargains cannot be worth it at all.

Cuts to the acquisition budget

During the early stages of the pandemic, many organizations did very well at new donor acquisition. Some are still, while others are seeing a slump. When times are hard — as they are likely to be in the coming months, it might seem sensible and easy to spend less on donor acquisition. After all, acquisition is an area where most of us lose money even in good times. If response drops, it doesn’t get any better.

The scary part is, when you cut acquisition, you slash your future. You guarantee that the hard times will last. One year of no new donors means seven (or more) years of lower revenue. If you stop acquisition for long enough, you can send your organization into a death-spiral.

Armchair Experts Pushing Theories

There are a lot of people out there with interesting theories about fundraising. They often sound reasonable, but they should scare the fun-size candy bars right out of your pillowcase! I’m talking theories like these:

  • Direct mail doesn’t work anymore. Time to go all digital.
  • If you talk to your donors, they’ll get angry and leave you forever.
  • Let’s stop fundraising from old people. They’re dying. Let’s pivot to millennials and other young, hip, cool people that we’d rather be talking to.

There are a lot more like that. These three are not supported by facts. They are theories. The theories that spread are the ones that people want to believe. When someone shares something like this, ask for data! Because following a bad theory can wreck your budget and choke your career!

Donor fatigue

Donor fatigue is the “invisible man” of fundraising monsters. Okay, more than invisible. It’s non-existent.

But when you see people talking about it, trouble is close behind.

Donor fatigue is an imaginary state where donors get tired of some topic (or even the whole philanthropy things) and just turn away. Most often, donor fatigue is given as the reason charitable giving during a disaster eventually drops off. “Donors are tired of it,” people say.

The current brand of fatigue is “COVID fatigue,” meaning donors have just had it with fundraising connected to the pandemic. The proposed way to deal with this and other forms of fatigue is something like this:

  • It’s not our fault, it’s those good-for-nothing donors!
  • Let’s discuss what’s wrong with donors in general.
  • Get ahead of it by going silent. Don’t worry — nobody will blame you for the lost revenue, as it’s the donors’ fault!

As with most lies that spread easily, there’s a little sliver of truth mixed in to the donor fatigue myth. Donor response to any given topic is not the same all the time. It grows and shrinks.

And the most sure way to see it shrink? Stop communicating with donors! Scary.


Rebranding is supposed to inject new energy into our world. But it never does. Turns out the brand experts are the brain-eating zombies of the fundraising world. If they show up at your door, slam it. If they get in, run away.

A rebranding has the potential to devour your fundraising program with their grand abstractions and faddish design. After the branding experts have come and gone, many organizations are stuck with a drop of up to 50% in fundraising revenue.

The boss loves it

This one seems like it’s more of a ballerina on your porch than a werewolf. But believe me, it can really zap you, big time!

This one always gets you because you want the boss to love your work, right? The problem is, when the boss thinks you’ve really captured what she wants to say, you have almost certainly mucked it up for your donors.

I know this may not seem tenable, but if your boss goes ga-ga over your fundraising message, you should probably go back to the drawing board.

The best way to defend yourself from these monsters is to get up-to-date, accurate information — and to be part of a community of smart, sharing fundraisers. That’s what you’ll get when you join The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic. It’s a true community, the thing we all need most right now — plus all kinds of courses, templates, checklists, and other resources that can help you go to new places as a fundraiser. More information here.

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VIDEO How Focus on ROI Can Hobble Your Fundraising
Maths of Fundraising

VIDEO: How Focus on ROI Can Hobble Your Fundraising

I hate to admit it, but a lot of what it takes to be smart about fundraising means doing mathematics.

Not my best subject.

Fortunately, it’s not super-hard math.

And fortunately, we have math geeks like Sean to help us understand.

In this difficult time, we need all the good math we can get.

Check out our discussion on the danger of relying on Return on Investment (ROI) and its even more evil twin, Cost to Raise a Dollar.

Find out what numbers you should and should not be looking at as you try to understand what’s happening with your fundraising.

Whether it’s the math of fundraising or any other topic, it’s best to equip yourself for success. And that’s what you’ll do when you join The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic. It’s a true community, the thing we all need most right now — plus all kinds of courses, templates, checklists, and other resources that can help you go to new places as a fundraiser. More information here.

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Fundraisers Gotta Keep on Truckin

Fundraisers Gotta Keep on Truckin’

Remember Keep on Truckin’?

It’s a classic slogan and image from the counterculture, created in 1968 by cartoonist R. Crumb. (And if you aren’t humming the Grateful Dead classic “Truckin’,” you might need a little more music in your life!)

When I was a kid, I had the Keep on Truckin’ poster in my room. Don’t get the idea I was a genuine hippy. I was 9 years old. I just thought it was cool, in a middle-class white-boy sort of way. (It was right next to my own quasi-psychedelic hand-painted poster that said, “Jeff is groovy.” Signs of the times.)

I’d like to resurrect Keep on Truckin’ for fundraisers, because it’s a needed reminder for these strange times.

Here’s why:  We may be heading into difficult times for fundraising. It’s been hard … it might get harder before it gets easier.

But whatever is in store for us in the coming months, the motto to keep yourself steady and on target should be: Keep on Truckin’!

Keep working, working the plan, soldiering through — even if it’s difficult and weird.

Let’s look at some of the possible challenges we face. These are scary things that might happen in the near future. Each demands that we face it with smart and targeted strategies. But in addition, the main thing is not to curl up into a ball and hide. When times are hard, Keep on Truckin’.

The end of the “bump”

Fundraising typically thrives in times of crisis, at least for organizations connected with the crisis. The COVID-19 crisis has impacted nearly all organizations, either because it has created more demand for their work, or because it caused them to lose significant revenue — or both.

So there was a predictable “crisis bump” this Spring. Organizations that stayed in touch with donors and pivoted to pandemic-relevant fundraising experienced record-breaking fundraising. Many organizations basically had three Decembers in a row starting in April.

For many organizations, that amazing stretch of fundraising is fading. How much of that is because the energy of the crisis is less compelling for donors, and how much is because fundraisers simply haven’t been able to keep up the pace is not clear.

But fundraising is not as amazing as it was, at least for many of us. And it may continue to get worse.

When (or if) that happens, your strategy should be Keep on Truckin’!

Don’t decide for donors that they are done with the crisis. Keep on connecting with them, giving them good and relevant reasons to donate. You may not do as well as you did in the spring (that may never happen again in your career, frankly), but if you curtail fundraising, you are guaranteed an even greater drop in revenue.

A long-lasting slump

Past crises have often been followed by a general drop in fundraising results. As noted, we may be seeing this happening already. Also, fundraising typically gets more difficult during recessions. Response rates drop. So do average gifts, hitting us with a double-whammy.

The recession we are now in around the world will likely not end quickly. And that could mean difficult fundraising for some time.

If that happens, Keep on Truckin’!

Responding to difficulty by giving up is not a good strategy in any area of life.

If your cause is in any way connected to fighting poverty or helping people in need, you may find that you do quite well during a recession — because your message is more present and believable than ever. If you’re not in that area, you may face harder times. Just don’t make it even worse by going quiet on your donors.

Election craziness

In the past, noisy, weird elections have had a negative impact on fundraising. The 2000 US presidential election results were up in the air for about a month, and fundraising results during that time were atypically low.

I think we can count on this year’s election being at least that weird. Throw in the uncertainty about the US Postal Service, and more than a few of us are nervous.

But I bet you know what I’m going to say: Keep on Truckin’!

Shutting down and doing nothing will badly hurt your results. Going into uncertain times with your eyes open — it might hurt, but the damage won’t be nearly as deep.

Bottom line: I can’t think of any situation where the right response is to give up on your fundraising. You may have to move budgets around, refigure your schedule, and adjust your messaging. And none of that guarantees you won’t suffer.

But giving up does guarantee that you will suffer. A lot.

So please … Keep on Truckin’!

Keep on Truckin’ with fact-based, experienced fundraising training and advice — and by belonging to a community of fundraisers who share knowledge and connection. That’s what you’ll get when you join The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic. It’s a true community, the thing we all need most right now — plus all kinds of courses, templates, checklists, and other resources that can help you go to new places as a fundraiser. More information here.

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Conquer Your Fear of Making Mistakes

6 Tips to Conquer Your Fear of Making Mistakes

I once worked at a place where everyone was focused on avoiding mistakes. It was a deeply engrained cultural value that came, I think, from the president of the company, who came from a difficult family background.

It was a challenging place to work.

Whenever something went wrong, the company went into a frenzied process of documenting the error and pinpointing what (and who) had caused it. This was meant to be so we could avoid making the error a second time, but we jokingly (and not-so-jokingly) called the document the “Blame Matrix.”

The result: paralysis. The cost of making a mistake was so high, it just felt safer to do as little as possible.

And we made a lot of mistakes. More than other places I’ve worked. Sure, we were pretty good at avoiding the same mistake twice. But we more than made up for it in really strange one-time errors, the kind you make when you’re so afraid of messing up that you don’t notice the obvious problem that’s right in front of you.

As I eventually figured out, sometimes fear of mistakes is even more damaging than mistakes themselves.

But just sloppily ignoring the possibility of errors is not good either. You’ve got to use a meaningful level of prudence.

It’s a balancing act all professional people have to work on.

I’ve noticed it’s heightened at a lot of nonprofit organizations.

If you or the people around you are paralyzed by fear of mistakes, here’s an article in the Harvard Business Review you might find very helpful: How to Overcome Your Fear of Making Mistakes.

Here are the practical highlights of the article:

  1. Don’t be afraid or ashamed of your fear

It’s reasonable to feel afraid sometimes. It heightens your awareness. But the fear tends to increase in hard times. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re feeling this way. And don’t beat up others for it.

It’s natural to try to keep up a brave face, but it can be unhealthy. Especially when it drives you to deny the difficult reality we’re in and berate yourself for the emotions you feel.

Acknowledge your fear — to yourself, and to at least a few other people in your life. Channel your fear into useful activities that allow you to prevent errors without focusing on them.

  1. Use emotional agility skills

The key to keeping your emotions from causing you to be less effective is to practice these learnable skills:

  • Label your thoughts and feelings. Stating your fears out loud helps defang them.
  • Accept reality. There are many things you can’t control — especially other people’s behavior. List those things that you know you need to accept and work with.
  • Act on your values. Your values are your strength. Consciously make your values part of your decisions and reactions.
  • Don’t try to reduce uncertainty to zero. It can’t be done.
  1. Focus on processes, not outcomes

While you can’t completely control outcomes, you can control processes and reduce the chances of failure. Look for ways to make sure you have the information you need, to eliminate your blind spots, to discover problems earlier rather than later. This will not only help reduce mistakes, it will give you a way to channel your fear into productive activities.

  1. Broaden your thinking

Think big. When you put your fear in context with everything else in life, it can help you clarify your thinking. Even thinking about all the other things that cause fear can give you perspective.

Doing this can help you get into problem-solving mode, which itself makes fear easier to face.

  1. Recognize the value of leisure

Fear wears you down. And being worn down makes you fearful.

Take it easy!

Take breaks. A week or two. A day off. Even short times away from the grind can help you not only recharge your energy, but increase your ability to solve problems.

  1. Detach from judgment-clouding noise

Fear makes us pay attention to too many things. You’ve probably noticed how you can fall into obsessively checking social media or news constantly when you’re afraid. At work, we can over-monitor people around us, and be constantly checking and re-checking data. (I can’t count how many times I’ve watched as fundraisers started taking emergency steps because results to the latest campaign were behind where they should be … only to discover a day or two later that there’s no problem at all.)

Limit your information intake! Make sure you take the time to think about the information you have. This can make you much more effective.

Fear of making mistakes can really do a number on your work and on your life.

Do your best to be mindful: Fear has the most power when you aren’t aware what it’s doing to you!

Knowing you have other people who care about you, can give you advice, and listen to you is another way to beat the fear of mistakes. You can tap into the community by joining The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic. You also get access to tons of tools, tips, courses and more to help you build your fundraising career. Find out more here.

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Book view orbit

BOOK REVIEW: Orbiting the Giant Hairball

Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon MacKenzie

orbiting the giant hairball coverI read a lot of books that are meant to make me better at my work. You probably do too. Every fundraising book I can get my hands on. Lots of books about marketing and other forms of persuasion that can bring new ideas into fundraising. Books about strategy and thinking that just make me smarter and more effective. Books about dealing effectively with other people.

I devour them all. Hundreds of books. Many of them are simply amazing. Some of them not so much.

So when I tell you there’s one book of all those that I really, really hope you’ll read, please understand that I’m telling you something I think is a very big deal.

Orbiting the Giant Hairball is the one book that has really transformed my professional life. It’s the “business” book I most often recommend to people.

It’s not about fundraising. It’s not about any particular business at all. It’s about being your best in a “corporate” environment. And for the purposes of this book, nonprofits can be among the most in-the-box, anti-creative types of corporate environment in existence.

You know that in order to succeed at this crazy, fuzzy profession of fundraising, you have to be creative, passionate, and amazing all the time. But you work in an organization that is ruled by procedures and bureaucracy — and it often feels like a strangling mass of hair.

That’s the hairball of the title.

When you read this book, you’ll see how to escape the hairball — and appreciate that it has a necessary function. You’ll discover the balance that will give you the freedom and confidence to be the creative problem-solver you want to be — and that your organization needs you to be.

Let me summarize that balance.

Most of us are able to make a positive impact because we are part of a community — an organization. Even those who are “self-employed” don’t work alone, really. Everyone works within organizations.

And that means hairball. Every organization has one — a mass of policies, procedures, rules, and bureaucracy. Those things, by their very nature, strangle creativity, innovation, exploration, and bold thinking.

Some hairballs are worse than others — bigger, messier, more strangling — but there’s no such thing as a hairball-free organization. The weird thing about the hairball is that it’s necessary. If there were no hairball, there would be no organization.

You need the hairball.

But you also need to be free from the hairball.

If you let yourself be trapped in the hairball, you will waste all your time and energy on trivial, bureaucratic BS. You won’t accomplish much that matters. On the other hand, if you completely escape the hairball, you are no longer part of a community that puts your greatness into action.

The solution is to “orbit” the hairball. Stay just within its gravitational force — close enough to share the corporate goals and direction, but just far enough out of it to avoid getting tangled up.

That’s what the book is about. It’s a practical, inspiring, cheerleading handbook on finding the balance where you aren’t tangled in hairball, but you aren’t floating by yourself in empty space.

The book is full of inspiring examples of orbiters and hints for how to orbit. It has helped me solve more conundrums and deal with more frustrations than anything else I’ve read. Through the years, it gave me and my orbiting colleagues a vocabulary for plotting our escape from the hairball — while appreciating what it offered us. Like, you know, salaries and benefits and shared purpose.

It also points out that each of us has a hairball inside our own heads. And talks about how we orbit even that hairball:

So many books and workshops that promise to increase our capacity for creativity fail to deliver because they prescribe removing the left twin’s censoring hand through rational means. That won’t work. To take a rational approach to halting the left twin’s silencing of the right twin is to play directly into his strength, which is rational thinking. And you cannot beat him at his own game. Ultimately, the only effective way to remove his inhibiting hand is through transrational thinking.

Orbiting the Giant Hairball is not a “normal” book. It’s filled with sketchy drawings and weird design. Some of it is handwritten. It looks messy. (There’s one chapter, titled “Orville Wright” that is just one 8-word sentence long. But it’s a sentence that packs a wallop.)

You probably know people who will hate it at first sight, because it looks so strange. Maybe you will hate it. Until you read it.

This book just might change your professional life, the way it has mine. I highly recommend it.

One of the duties of a true Orbiter is to equip yourself with knowledge so your creativity can soar. The best way to do that is to pursue quality fundraising training and advice — and by belonging to a community of fundraisers who share knowledge and connection. That’s what you’ll get when you join The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic. It’s a true community, the thing we all need most right now — plus all kinds of courses, templates, checklists, and other resources that can help you go to new places as a fundraiser. More information here.

CFRE Points:
Strong Monthly Giving Program
BooksMonthly Giving

How to Build a Strong Monthly-Giving Program in Less Than One Afternoon

Book Review: How to Create Lifelong Donors through Monthly Giving by Harvey McKinnon

The most important thing you need to know about fundraising is this:

Everything you do is about finding and stewarding three types of donors:

  1. Major (and mid-value) donors.
  2. Bequest donors.
  3. Recurring (mainly monthly) donors.

If you aren’t actively helping donors join one (or more) of those categories, your fundraising program is almost certainly unsustainable.

Of those three types, major giving and bequest giving are a challenge, because only a small percentage of donors can or want to do those things.

But any donor can become a recurring donor, and the percentage of donors who are open to it is much greater than the other two groups.

But don’t get the idea that getting recurring donors is easy. It’s not.

That’s why you need to read Harvey McKinnon’s latest book.

It is a simple, fact-based, no-nonsense guide, from one of our industry greats. Harvey knows what he’s talking about!

This book is a quick read — you can get through the whole book in one sitting — there are 40 chapters, but most of them are two or three pages long. But that doesn’t mean the book is thin on details. It has everything you need to know to launch a successful monthly giving program:

  • Want to know what should you name your monthly giving program?
  • Want to know how much should you ask people to give each month?
  • Looking for the best ways to find and recruit those monthly donors?
  • Can you ask monthly donors to give even more?
  • How should you collect those monthly donations?

Just as important, Harvey equips you to make the case to sometimes-skeptical bosses or boards for why you should create (or improve) your monthly giving program:

  • We will raise more money — significantly more.
  • We will develop a more positive relationship with our donors.
  • Our monthly donors will stay with us, giving for four years longer than other donors.
  • We can rely on sustainers to keep income flowing in year-round and year after year.
  • We’ll lower our cost of fundraising.
  • Our income will grow over time.

Reading this book could change the financial future of your organization.

Whether you’re just starting to consider monthly giving for the first time, or a long-time veteran and you want to up your game, read this book!

When you join The Fundraisingology Lab, you get access to Harvey McKinnon’s powerful online course, How to Raise Money AND Change the World. You also can take our popular online workshop Matched Giving Magic, taught by Erica Waasdorp. And that’s just the beginning of what you’ll have available. Check out membership now!

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CFRE Points:
Whats next for Fundraisers
Crises Fundraising

VIDEO: What’s Next for Fundraisers? We Have Bad News and Good News

You might have heard there’s a post-pandemic “slump” coming for fundraisers.

Is it going to happen? And what can we do about it?

We have two short answers for you:

  1. Yes, a slump in giving is almost sure to happen in the coming months.
  2. But how damaging it is to you is almost entirely up to you!

The health crisis part of COVID-19 is already past in some places (though not even close in others, including the US).

After the health crisis comes the economic crisis. (Of course, the economic crisis was already with us, but it was largely overshadowed by the disease itself.) And here’s the hard part: Fundraising in a recession is difficult.

Find out what you can do to weather this new difficult time that is coming.

It’s not as bad as you think!

We all do the best work when we stand together, especially in hard times. That’s why you should look into The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic. It’s a powerful, global community of great fundraisers who support each other. You also get access to tons of tools, tips, courses and more to help you build your fundraising career. Join the waiting list now and you’ll be the first to hear when the doors open again!

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Pop Art Watch on Mans Hand 123RF

Your Calendar for Successful Year-End Fundraising

CLICK HERE to download this blog as a PDF: Your Calendar for Successful Year-End Fundraising.

It’s time to get on top of your year-end fundraising. For many organizations, December is go big or go home time — the month that makes it all work.

Is this year different?

There’s no question this COVID-19 year is atypical for almost all fundraisers. The biggest thing is what has happened for those who stayed active through the spring and summer: Most had record-breaking fundraising results. Many hit their full 2020 revenue goal in April or May.

An obvious next question is this: Has December already happened? Did donors simply move their year-end giving into the spring in response to the pandemic?

Answer: Almost surely not. Don’t second-guess your donors, assuming they won’t give. Field a strong year-end campaign for best results.

Here’s a suggested calendar to your end-of-year fundraising. Your exact dates will vary, depending on a lot of factors, but I hope this gives you a good starting place.

I hope it helps! CLICK HERE to get this blog as a PDF: Your Calendar for Successful Year-End Fundraising.



There are two distinct reasons giving goes up at the end of the year:

  1. Offers that are specifically connected to the Holidays — Thanksgiving or Christmas meals, gifts for kids, etc. — are very compelling to many donors.
  2. The Holidays (basically US Thanksgiving up to New Year’s) are themselves reasons to give, even when there’s no connection with the Holidays themselves.

Your organization may have #1 as a factor for donors, but for sure you have #2.

If you have Holiday-related offers, start your Holiday fundraising early. Like early September. Maybe even earlier!

September is the sweet-spot for most gift-catalog fundraisers. “Get ready for the Holiday” appeals can do very well in this time.

It’s also the time for the Jewish High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah), which this year start mid-September and go well into October.

NOVEMBER: Thanksgiving (US only)

Thanksgiving is an important holiday in the US, with deep emotional roots for many people. It is not far behind Christmas as an occasion for donating. It falls on the late side this year, November 26 (it ranges from the 22nd to the 28th).

If you’ve never done a Thanksgiving appeal, consider doing one this year.

The topic: Thankfulness. That’s right — remind your donors of the power and importance of being thankful and let them know that charitable giving is a great way to express gratitude. Connect gratitude with your cause in whatever way works.

An appeal like this can be very powerful when it authentically connects with the donor.


An email and/or social media campaign centered around Giving Tuesday can be quite strong. For many organizations, it is amongst the top digital fundraising campaigns of the year.

If you are cynical about Giving Tuesday, I don’t blame you. It’s an unusual occasion, but it continues to do well for a lot of organizations. It has somewhat successfully connected itself with the cluster of named days after Thanksgiving (Black Friday, Cyber Monday, etc.). The motive for donors seems to be “give today because everyone is giving.”

A minimalist Giving Tuesday campaign would have three parts:

  1. Monday: “Get ready for Giving Tuesday! Or get a jump on it and give now!”
  2. Tuesday: “Join the Giving Tuesday movement and donate now!” (Possibly more than one message this day.)
  3. Wednesday: “It’s not too late to make a Giving Tuesday donation!”

Some organizations start their Giving Tuesday campaign on the day after Thanksgiving.

Decision: “Holiday” or “Christmas”

Which do you and your donors celebrate? Unfortunately, in the US, this has become a bit of a political football. Fortunately, not many of your donors are active in that debate. What your organization chooses to call the season depends on the heritage and culture of your organization and your donors.

Just to be clear, “the Holidays” as a whole is a cluster of celebrations, most of them in December, including:

  • Hanukkah (starts December 10 this year)
  • Winter Solstice (December 21)
  • Christmas Day (December 25)
  • Kwanzaa (December 26)
  • Ramadan (migrates throughout the year; it won’t be in December until 2030)
  • New Year’s Day
  • Some Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7

There’s also a handful of Christmas-related minor holidays celebrated by various communities:

  • Nicholas Day (December 6)
  • Lucia Day (December 13)
  • Las Posadas (December 16-24)
  • Epiphany (January 6)

However you approach it, the Holidays are a potent giving season. Most traditions include gift-giving, and many also emphasize kindness and charity at this time of year.

Use faith imagery and language as appropriate. If not, do use secular images, like candy canes, Santa Claus, holly, etc. These things remind donors of their own connection with the Holidays and can do very well.


Most fundraisers have a campaign that combines the Holidays with the Year End. This appeal usually mails just before or just after Thanksgiving, to assure the mail will arrive in the first part of December.

In many countries, a Year End appeal is strong because December 31 is a tax deadline. Recent changes to the tax laws in the US mean far fewer donors will bother to claim any charitable tax deductions, but it is an important deadline to stress anyway!

I don’t need to tell you this, but someone may need the reminder: Just because it’s a Holiday/Year End appeal doesn’t mean you can skip the fundraising basics! You still need a strong and specific call to action.

The fact alone that it’s a “giving time of year” is not the reason people give. They’re just more likely to think about giving than at other times.

MID-DECEMBER: Year End Follow-Up

Here’s a way you might increase that year-end campaign revenue: Add an extra appeal a week or two after the Year End appeal, using the same topic as the Year End appeal. Keep it simple, and scale back on the donors you mail — such as current (gifts in the last 12 months only) and possibly remove low-dollar donors.

This doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s an important appeal for many.

Another possible follow-up activity: A postcard, sent to donors who have made online donations, urging them to give online.

DECEMBER 26-31: Calendar Year End campaign

In the US and other countries with a December 31 tax deadline, the final week of the year is often by far when most giving happens. Do not neglect it!

Email several times, starting December 26. As often as every day. And email twice on December 31, the biggest online giving day of the year.

That’s a fundraiser’s year end! Share what you’re doing this year, what you’ve done in the past, and what has (and hasn’t) worked for you at this critical time.

CLICK HERE to download this blog as a PDF: Your Calendar for Successful Year-End Fundraising.

Want to get every single one of these appeals right? Join The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic. It’s a community of fundraisers who support each other by sharing information, ideas, and encouragement. Members also have access to the best tools, time-saving templates, practical courses and other great stuff to help you survive and thrive this year-end. Find out more now.

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