Combatting Fundraising Burnout: 10 Tips For Nonprofits

The first question we need to ask when discussing “fundraising burnout” is, “Who is getting burned out?” There could be a lot of candidates!

  • The organizing committee? “Let’s just do what we did last year. It’s easier that way.”
  • The parents? “OMG! Is it candy sale time again?!”
  • The kids? “Mom, how many cookie dough sales do we need to do this year?”
  • The donors? “My grandchildren are driving me to the poor house with their fundraisers!”

The answer could be all of the above.

What is burnout? Maybe you’re frustrated. (If only Sally would return my call, then I could move on with the program!)

Are you bored? (We’re selling wrapping paper for our school fundraiser again?!) Is it mentally or physically tiring? (Hauling pizza just wears me out!) Is it emotionally draining? (How many times can I hear “no?”)

From board members to major gift officers to volunteers, we can all take these things in small doses. Burnout occurs when these things happen again… and again… and again over time. Here are 10 tips for combatting fundraising burnout, or better yet, avoiding it altogether!

1. Focus on The Mission

Rarely does someone come to a nonprofit and say, “I’m lukewarm about your mission… I’m here because I LOVE fundraising!” So give them what they want and educate them on your mission first! They’re not raising money, they’re making sure that children get a new playground or hospice care is available to everyone, or the library has books. The money that comes from the fundraising is a means to an end — not the end. Educate them on your mission so they can educate others in turn.

2. Make It Fun

While “putting the fun in fundraising” may be a strong contender for the tritest slogan in the nonprofit world, there’s certainly something to be said for making fundraising enjoyable for everybody involved. Even asking with no event or product can be enjoyable for the donor if they see how much of an impact their money will make for those you serve. You don’t need clowns or magicians. You need spirit and enthusiasm.

Having the right tools and skills makes fundraising more fun, too. Provide some easy-to-access training resources to your team in order to encourage them to learn and improve. For example, you might direct them to Nonprofit.Courses’ list of free nonprofit webinars to get them started.

3. Mix It Up with Products and Activities

Are you insane? Do you try the same thing year after year and expect different results? Put some sanity in your work and try something different — a different product or event, a different recognition method, or a different fundraising method altogether! Companies try this all the time in their marketing. That laundry soap you buy is certainly “new and improved” even though they just changed the dye to make it blue, not green. Changes get attention and refresh people’s approach — and attitudes — toward what they’re doing.

For example, instead of selling pizza again this year for your big summer campaign, try a fun run instead. This will keep your team’s jobs interesting and surprise your donors with something new. You could also change things up by selling a new product, like a coupon card or lollipops.

4. Recognize Accomplishments

Everyone likes to do well. Have you told them how well they did? Did you say it in front of others? According to Astron Solutions’ guide to employee recognition, recognition plays a huge role in employee retention. We can extrapolate this information to your fundraising team, even if it’s made up of volunteers instead of paid employees. They need recognition, too!

And we’re not talking about giving a speech about a team member at some dinner — but that would be fine, too. How about recognizing them at a committee meeting, or through a phone call or quick note? And the best part? Saying “thank you” makes you feel better too! Just try it and see.

5. Say Please and Thank You

There’s a reason why your mother called please and thank you “the magic words.” Asking nicely and telling someone that you really appreciate what they do goes a long way. When people feel appreciated, they’ll do more for you and maybe even get less angry about problems that arise. They may even lend you more of their time and assistance.

6. Make Things Easy

Complication leads to frustration, and frustration is a direct path to burnout. So as much as you can, keep systems as simple and easy as possible. How easy is it to report your sales? If there’s a problem with your fundraising platform, how hard is it to get someone’s attention to solve it? Put yourself in the shoes of your solicitors and donors. Is it easy to explain your mission, to ask for the gift, and to make the gift? Why not?

7. Work and Communicate With Others

Being a leader isn’t about doing it all yourself. It’s getting others to do things and pooling all of their work together. You can’t forget them, though. Whether you’re working with booster club parents or a team of professionals, “set it and forget it” isn’t a strategy, no matter how much you trust they’ll get the job done. Ongoing communication is key to keeping them motivated and you assured.

8. Put Everyone to Work

Are you in an 80/20 situation? You know, eighty percent of the work is done by twenty percent of the people (or less!). The reason that most volunteers don’t step up is that nobody asked! So ask! It may seem like it’s just easier and faster to do it yourself (in the long run, it isn’t). They may be used to you doing the work, so they may try to get out of it with a compliment like “Oh, but I can’t possibly do it as well as you can!” They may give an excuse, like “I don’t have the time.” (Like you do?) Stand firm. Ask.

9. Stop and Breathe

You’ve certainly heard, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.” It’s true. It may seem like you have no time to pause. But if you don’t pause, you’ll crash. Set some “no fundraising” time in your life — each day and each week. Go on a walk, binge-watch a TV series, put on your headphones and sit in a park. Whatever it is, unplugging lets your brain relax and helps you with combatting fundraising burnout.

10. Stay Focused on What’s Important

Let’s face it — most problems that you’re facing aren’t really that important to the overall success of your fundraising efforts. It’s not to say that they are unimportant to somebody, but they’re not going to make or break whether you fund your program. The key is knowing what is important and what is not. If possible, get a volunteer or assistant to pick up the “urgent but not important” issues. Then, focus as much time as you can on the big things – what’s not urgent, but important to the long-term success of your effort.

For example, having the band back out of your event is a good “urgent and important” that requires your attention. Finding enough of the right volunteers to sell tickets four months before the event is very important, but not urgent — and definitely worth your time. Whether the event brochure uses Yellow PMS 103 or 116 may be urgent for the printer, but not terribly important for you, since the colors are nearly identical. Ask a trusted assistant or volunteer to handle that one.

Is combatting fundraising burnout possible? Yes. It takes some work, though. If you’re successful, not only will you be better off for it, your nonprofit will benefit, and you may even keep on the job much longer. Since fundraiser longevity is a key to long-term fundraising strategy success, it’s a win/win!