This is the Single Top Priority of a Fundraiser in January

The single most important thing you as a fundraiser can do in the month of January 2016 is to:

Disrupt.

Wait, what?  Aren't these more important resolutions? 

  • Hitting this year's fundraising goals.
  • Creating a new and improved fundraising strategy.
  • Making this the year I motivate the board to raise money.
  • Cleaning up the database.
  • Sending donors newsletters they actually want to read.
  • Once and for all, prioritize a new website that is donor-friendly

Sure. We're all for those. And it will be nearly impossible to meet one or any of these goals if you don't first create a healthy dose of disruption in your thinking and in your fundraising program.  

In my decades of fundraising, I have learned this: Fundraising is not inherently stressful. I want to repeat that: Fundraising is not inherently stressful. 

The stress comes from the pressure we put on ourselves to prove our worth, to avoid letting anyone down, and most importantly, to fund the mission we care deeply about. We want to succeed, not just for the sake of success, but because when we bring in more resources we help more people. 

When we get into patterns we don't release our greatest gifts. We get stuck. We stay in the pressure cooker. We make an imprint. That imprint is not always healthy or productive. 

What, then, as fundraisers can we do to disrupt our personal and organizational imprints and replace them with healthier, better imprints? A few things:

1. Pause right now, and recall a gift you made possible in 2015. I connected with a friend and confidante on New Year's Eve day to talk about a project I'm passionate about. I had sent her materials. We scheduled a call. In a short time, she made a five-figure gift, hours before the clock struck midnight. I was beaming, for her generosity, for the impact of her gift, and because she opened the conversation with this question: "Are you ready to make history?" Her boldness made me more bold. I felt abundance after talking with her. I felt possibility and joy. 

What is your moment? Write it down. Relish it. Don't rush through it or past it. Don't check it off a list and fly through your to-do list. "Okay, that gift in and that one. Send them thank-you letters. Who's next?" Be in the joy of what you made possible. 

2. Practice relationalnot transactionalfundraising. Transactional fundraising is to-do and task lists, roles and responsibilities, and staff assignments. It's fundraising without soul. Relational fundraising, on the other hand, is what I like to call a big, beautiful bucket of joy. It's putting donors, staff, volunteers at the forefront. It's imagining what's possible, then crafting a plan to mobilize resources. It's not starting with a number then asking, "How?" It's starting with a vision and saying, "How many ways can we realize it?"

Write an email to your team that shows them the untapped possibility of 2016. Today, I got an email from a colleague that made me say, "Huzzah!" It was hopeful, joyful, visionary. It lifted up each of us who read it. He gave me what I needed to connected with donors in a new way, through a new lens, and with new information to inspire. It shared the realistic and the practical, but it didn't lead with the practical. The author lifted us up to what we are making possible and then gracefully stated, "All we need to do to make this possible is..." I felt the shift in me. I read the shift that others felt in their replies. 

Write an email sharing vision to your team, colleagues and board. Share numbers, budgets, target goals and aims, of course, but don't lead with those. Show them what can be. In practicing relationship fundraising you are practicing self-care. You are setting the tone for how things move forward. 

3. Disrupt the pressure habit. Pressuring yourself is a habit. This month, resolve to break this habit. Type A culture tells us that pressure is the only way to get things done. Perhaps, but imagine a pressure cooker. What happens when you don't remove the lid? Pop! And think of the last time you had a great donor interaction: Were you feeling pressured? Were you infecting them with this stress? Were you relaxed and exploring with them, or did you really need a Wal-Mart blood pressure cuff STAT?  

To break this habit, stop each and every time you say, "Oh shoot, I didn't do that." Or, "Why didn't that donor write back? Did I say something wrong?" Or, "Are they going to keep me in this job if I don't hit these numbers?" Then do what you gotta do: jumping jacks, salsa, the call of the wild. Disrupt the pressure pattern. Feel joy. 

Exhale. Remind yourself you're still here. We're still here. Exhale again. Now, type your next email. Slowly. Share the joy and the possibility. This I know to be true: Joy is infectious. Joy goes with you. It shows up in conversations with donors. They feel it. They are lifted up. They and you see things that are possible you couldn't see before. 

Joy is waiting to hang out with you. Try it for a few minutes today or tomorrow, and in no time, you'll be thinking, "Oh, I've so got this." 

Kathy LeMay is Co-President and CEO at Raising ChangeKathy has raised $175 million from individual philanthropists for global social change.