It was not the most wonderful time of the year for me.
A bad break up plus a few other personal upsets left me in no mood to celebrate the holidays. I didn’t feel like hanging out with friends and certainly had no desire to drive the 10+ hours home to family. Christmas day spent delivering food packages to the needy helped get me thru that day, but there was still another week to endure before the promise of better times in a new year.
As with many nonprofits, we were closed the week between Christmas and January 1st. I had joined the staff three years previous as Director of Development. In that time, our annual campaign grew from $80,000 to $230,000. Despite a softening economy, this year looked to top out at $280,000. Not bad.
I waved no magic wand to achieve this growth, just put basic fundraising principles and processes into work at a sleepy mom and pop organization. I had no training nor mentors. Everything I knew about donor development came from a handful of books, and even this knowledge was incomplete.
Work has always been a way to feel a sense of purpose when feeling less than useful. So the morning of December 26th found me trudging to the office in search of meaning….or maybe just distraction from less than stellar personal circumstances
Back then, when I didn’t know what to do, I went to the office. Though even now, when I don’t know what to do in the office, I pick up the phone. The act of conversation creates momentum, so it’s my Go-To.
After some dawdling around, I pulled up my donor database and began to dial, thinking I might nab a couple of hundred bucks in last second gifts.
This being a time when people still answered their phones, I enjoyed numerous conversations with supporters. The rest received a voice mail.
“Hello, this is Michael. Just saying thank you for your support this year. You’ve made a big difference in the lives of many in our town. If you’re doing year-end tax planning and needing to make contributions to your favorite causes, please keep us in mind. I’ll be available to talk with you until 5:00 pm on the 31st.”
I did not ask for gifts, just for our supporters to keep us in mind if they were making contributions.
The first two days yielded a few small donations. Then on the 28th came a rapping on our office door (remember, we were closed so the front door locked). It was Marcia, handing me an envelope and saying, “No time to chat, but could you send the receipt directly to our accountant”.
Back at my desk, the contents of that envelope were a pleasant surprise…..$5,000. Had to double check to make sure it was a five followed by three zeroes. It was….and it was just the start.
Over the next three days came a slew of ringing phones and knocks on the door. By the time the ball dropped heralding the new year, an extra $36,000 had come to us.
While Work/Life balance is emphasized across American society, nonprofits engaged in human services tend to take it to a higher level. As such, we close the office in order that our staff may “enjoy time with their family”. By accident, and because of my crappy personal life, I had stumbled upon something important, that the time between December 26-31 is fertile ground for reaching donors. Later I learned this is not a trade secret, but recall I had no previous fundraising training. It was all new to me.
Dear Executive Directors, Nonprofit Boards and Development Staff, use the week between Christmas and New Years to get on the phones. Keep your organization in the top of their minds. Do it not just for the money, but because it deepens the relationship with those already supporting you. It is the right thing to do.
Make personal contact. Make it the most wonderful week of the year.
There is no secret to raising money. I can show you basic steps to involve your entire organization in the process. You become the hero when the checks, credit cards, bitcoin come rolling in.