FYI Blog


Fall has always been my favorite time of year. When I was younger, I didn’t feel the loss of summer—I was excited to see my school friends again, start all new classes, and begin the fall sports season.

I still don’t mind leaving summer behind, as I look forward to that nip in the air. But the transition can be more challenging now—getting the kids ready for school, fitting more work into shorter days, saying goodbye to those relaxed summer Fridays at the office or working from home.

For fundraisers, we’re transitioning from a slower summer schedule to the inevitable frenzy that is the couple of months leading up to year-end fundraising. We’re buckling down and finally catching up on all those to-do items that other people’s summer vacations invariably delayed.

To get through, I find it helpful to shift my mindset. Instead of a race to the finish, I get motivated by the foundations we build for future—through the budgeting process, strategic plans, risk assessment, and gearing up for year-end implementation—that will set us up to succeed at the time of year when donors are typically most generous.

It is important to remember that the fall transition can be rocky for your donors, too, as they’re thinking of their own budgets and holiday spending. Nonprofits can alleviate that by helping donors consider new ways of giving, sharing progress and accomplishments, and inviting them to take small, additional steps like upgrading, sustainer giving, or starting to think about planned giving.

For example, we recently developed and tested a monthly pre-renewal series email to target mid-level donors for a client looking to strengthen upgrading within their rolling renewals. At the client’s urging, the ask was soft, but this unconventional approach has been quite successful, raising $31,000 from 13 gifts over a few months. We’re encouraged to try more strategies like this—especially targeting mid-level donors—to let them hear from us in different ways.

As this example shows, transitions don’t have to be big or abrupt or difficult to be effective. A minor modification to how we approach challenges and opportunities can be helpful. A recent post on Farnham Street (Inversion and the Power of Avoiding Stupidity) suggests simply changing the way we attack a problem or seek to make an improvement, by inverting how we think about it:

Say you want to improve innovation in your organization. Thinking forward, you’d think about all of the things you could do to foster innovation. If you look at the problem by inversion, however, you’d think about all the things you could do that would discourage innovation. Ideally, you’d avoid those things. Sounds simple right? I bet your organization does some of those ‘stupid’ things today.

Following this advice, in addition to thinking about what we WANT to happen (for example, keep donors super engaged), fundraisers should think about what we DON’T WANT to occur (we don’t want donors to lose interest because our message and organization got lost in the noise and shuffle of everything else going on). Especially at this busy and challenging time of year, a small shift in thinking can give you a whole new perspective. Although “avoiding stupidity” is a harsh way to put it, that’s a good goal!

So let’s get back into our fall routines with enthusiasm, knowing the valuable results that lie ahead—upwards of 40% of nonprofits’ budgeted income can come in during this last quarter! Crank up the to-do list, give your donors some new things to think about, and don’t forget to fuel yourself with a pumpkin-spice latte now and then. Because really, isn’t that what fall is all about?