6 survival strategies for stressed out fundraisers


As the lights twinkled merrily, I could feel myself gripped by a growing panic.

It was barely half way through September, and I’d spotted my first holiday display of the year at a local department store.

Christmas is coming. My most dreaded time of the year was almost here.

When I first started as a small shop fundraiser, the holidays took on a special new meaning – they became a time of feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, and exhausted.

It took me years to figure out that it doesn’t have to be that way!

Here are some of the survival strategies I came to depend on during the busy year end giving season – and they can be applied all year round.

Remember, everyone is fighting their own battle

I picked up the phone one day in mid-December to find a frustrated, angry caller on the other end.

She’d been contacting local shelters to volunteer – she wanted to bring her kids in over the holidays to show them how fortunate they were, and teach them about giving back. She couldn’t believe that everyone she had spoken to declined her help!

I felt my own temper rising – holiday volunteer roles were highly coveted, and had been filled weeks ago, mostly by dedicated volunteers who helped out year round.

And besides - our organization is not here just to fulfill her selfish Lady Bountiful Christmas fantasy!

I took a deep breath, and told her that our volunteer roles were filled until the end of the year – but perhaps I could refer her to another organization still looking for holiday help.

As we both calmed down and got to chatting, I found out that she herself had spent the holidays at a shelter with her mom when she was a child.

She had precious memories of finding a place of warmth, welcome and safety during a difficult time for her family, and she wanted to be a part of creating that for another child.

If there is one thing I like to remember during the holiday season, it's this:

"Be kind. For everyone you meet is

fighting a battle you know nothing about."

Stay focused on your priorities

Nothing matters more to your work right now than those dedicated donors who have already said yes to supporting your organization.

Depending on your cause, you could be swamped with calls from new folks wanting to get involved – if you are a social service agency, chances are you are getting offers of everything from toy drives, to used clothing, to canned goods.

While in kind support can play a role in a healthy fundraising program, do not let it pull you away from your mission critical for the next few weeks: raising funds from your dedicated donors.

Stay focused on renewing support from your existing donors, and make sure you are asking well, asking often, and following up with a fabulous thank you!

Reconnect with your mission

It’s quite easy, during hectic times like these, to lose sight of why we’re working so hard to raise money for our cause.

Take some time to remember why you do this work in the first place, and reflect on what makes you passionate about your cause.

If your organization provides direct services in your community, and you are lucky enough to work on-site where your non-profit’s programs take place, go spend some time there.

Be present with the important work you do, and the people that work impacts (a good practice even if you aren’t grappling with the stress of holiday season!).

Don’t withdraw – socialize!

I know, nothing sounds sweeter right now than ditching that holiday party for the comfort of your jammies and a mindless Netflix binge.

But sometimes, spending social time with colleagues, neighbours, friends and family can be just the thing we need during this stressful season.

We humans are intensely social animals, and isolation and loneliness can put us at increased risk of anxiety, stress, and physical health problems.

Resist the siren call of your sofa, and get thee to that holiday party! Even if you only drop in for a quick appearance, chances are you’ll leave feeling better for it.

Schedule regular down time

I know this contradicts my previous tip – but scheduling some weekly downtime is also an important part of recharging this time of year.

I’ll actually block off evenings and/or weekend days in my calendar in December, so I know I’m covered in advance.

Sometimes I’ll use this time to exercise, or read, or cook some healthy meals for the week ahead.

But sometimes, you’ll find me hiding under a duvet on that aforementioned sofa, possibly nursing a generously sized glass of red wine.

Give yourself a break, and take the time you need to recharge, whatever that looks like for you.

Practice gratitude

Okay, this one may trigger an eye roll or two!

I know there’s a lot of pressure during the holiday season to “count your blessings” – but however you feel about this, there’s some good science to back up the idea of having a gratitude practice.

Turns out we humans are hardwired with a negativity bias – we more clearly remember and give weight to events and experiences we perceive as negative, over those we perceived as positive.

An excellent survival strategy that allowed our ancestors to pay attention and avoid getting eaten by a saber-toothed tiger no longer serves us so well.

Having a gratitude practice can help change your hardwired negativity bias. And great news for us fundraisers – simply expressing gratitude seems to have lasting positive effects on your brain!

I’m a big fan of Sharon Salzberg, one of the authors on my list of three books that changed the way I fundraise.

Sharon has recorded a great five minute holiday meditation that incorporates gratitude – why don’t you take a break right now and give it try?

Hang in there, fundraising friends! I’m rooting for you as you power through these busy last few weeks of the year, and am so grateful for all your hard work to make the world a better place. Thanks for taking the time to read, and take good care of yourself!

Emma Lewzey, CFRE is an award-winning fundraiser who has been helping great causes like yours build and grow successful fundraising programs since 1995. She’s the President-Elect of the world’s largest Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Chapter in Toronto, and the National Chair of AFP’s Fellowship in Inclusion and Philanthropy. Contact Emma to book your free discovery session, and find out how you can work together to strategically focus your precious resources on the fundraising initiatives that truly work.

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