And that brings us ‘round to Do, oh, oh, oh……

And that brings us ‘round to Do, oh, oh, oh……

By David Allen, Development for Conservation


Happy New Year!

Time to start again. January of another year. 2020 is over. (Thank Goodness!)

Probably wasn’t what you thought it was going to be last year at this time. (There’s an understatement!)

But now, it’s finally over. History.

Fa, sol, la, ti, Done.


And January brings us ‘round again “to Do.”

2021 yawns before us. It could be anything. It definitely will be something. What will it be for you?

January is a good time for reflection. Where have we been? What could we have done differently? What have we learned?


For Example: Self care

I usually write a post like I did last week about how CPA’s can’t take April off and fundraisers can’t take December off. (Land stewards can’t take summers off.) This is when our work happens.

Danni L. provided a thoughtful comment, which I greatly appreciated, about remembering to take care of yourself during this stressful time.

Fundraising might be the priority, she wrote, “but you can’t simply catch-up on self-care in January. It needs to be a balance. I don’t think it’s wise to perpetuate the ways in which fundraisers and non-profit professionals contribute to their own burnout during this important season.”

I agree. There is a time for stressful sprinting. And there is a time for rest.

So take some time this week to check in with yourself. Take some comp time. Curl up with a fire, some hot chocolate, and a good book. Take a walk. Spend some quality time with children or dogs (OK or cats, but I’m a die-hard dog person).

We’re going to need you at full strength in 2021.


For example: Write a reflective letter.

As a general statement, we spend way too much time in fundraising in the rearview mirror. For example, we base our goals and objectives on what we actually did last year, and we assume we will do the same things this year – because that’s what we did last year. That’s what we’ve always done.

That said, there is a time and place for candid reflection. And this is it. Did you write yourself a letter last year? – about your results in 2019, the board campaign, the major gift development program, the membership drive, the communications theme, the fundraising event, or the development plan for 2020? If so, now is a great time to go back and read what you wrote back then. What happened? How did you respond? What assumptions were you making that didn’t turn out to be true?

With all of that in mind, now assume that you are not there a year from now – not anywhere around, in fact. Write your replacement a letter explaining where you are right now – where the organization is related to fundraising – about your results in 2020, the board campaign, or the major gift development program, the membership drive, the communications theme, the fundraising event. Talk about what your priorities were going into last year and how they might have changed (how they most certainly did change with COVID!). Be analytical and reflective, but most of all, be candid. Talk about what you learned and what you might have done differently in hindsight. Talk also about what you’re most proud of, and where your efforts might have been brilliant.

Now turn your attention to the future. What assumptions are you making about 2021? What will you do differently? What MUST you do to be successful, and what MUST you do in 2021 to meet the organizational goals in the next few years?

If it turns out that you aren’t there a year from now, your reflections will help whoever is. If you are there, they will provide you an important baseline from which to measure your progress.


For example: De-Clutter.

One mental image for de-cluttering is to move EVERYTHING out. Then move back only those things that you either explicitly want to keep or need to use moving forward. And you can use the exercise as an opportunity to reflect on what’s really important.

Applying that idea to your ______________ can make you feel better, cleaner, tidier, readier to meet the challenges of the coming year. Fill in the blank with:

  • Personal office space
  • Closet
  • Car or car trunk
  • Job description
  • Development Plan


Applying that idea to your electronic space can make you feel better, too (and make it easier to find stuff). Take email. Do you hold on to your email? You shouldn’t. It clogs up the server. And you can use the exercise of tossing your email as an opportunity to reflect on your year last year.

Here’s one way to do it:

  • Set the presentation sort to “From” instead of “Date”
  • Quickly go through and delete everything you can delete without thinking. Spam, updates, blog notifications, news alerts, that kind of stuff.
  • Then go back somewhat more patiently, and look for attachments. Are there things you really want? Will ever use? Have already saved? Can these be saved in a folder somewhere and then deleted from your email?
  • Now look at the rest. Are they from people you care about? Do they carry some meaning for you? Can they be saved permanently as text files or in an archive? (I have the best email conversations with my wife, and I always save the threads every year in an archive file.) Can they be summarized in some way or (dare I say) printed? Do they remind you of someone you have neglected, or something left undone from 2020? Can you deal with that and then delete?
  • Now – trust me on this – put all the rest in an email folder called 2020 Trash Staging, and forget about it. On a dozen or so occasions next year, you will have some reason to go back through those emails to find something you vaguely remember, but it won’t happen very often.
  • Save that folder for three years and then close your eyes and press delete. You’ll not regret it. If you already have this habit, you can now delete the 2017 file.


You’re welcome.


For example: List your top 40.

I regularly suggest that organizations think in terms of a Top 100 – or T100 – list of the donors that will be their most important. But each person also has a similar list of relationships that are the most important for them. Who would make that list for you? Are they Board members? Donors? Volunteers? Staff relationships?

Whoever they are, write each person’s name on a paper list. As you do, take a moment to consider each person instead of each name. When was the last time you interacted with that person? When was the last time you initiated that contact? When will you see them next? Do they know how much they mean to you?

It wouldn’t hurt to keep the list visible where you run into it regularly through the year.

Now look ahead.

I always look at three checklist items each year in January: A new communications theme, getting my board campaign organized, and making sure my donor contacts for 2019 are well planned and organized.

I’ll be using this space to revisit Board campaigns and donor contact planning in the coming weeks, but here’s a sample process for developing a communications theme for 2019:

  • First make it a group process. Sure, it takes longer, but you will be dependent on everyone buying in and coming back to the theme with everything they produce as well. Engaging everyone up front will make everything more effective later.
  • Review everything you produced last year, even if it wasn’t connected with an obvious theme. Lay it all down on a conference table and look at it as an outsider would. Was there an intentional theme? An accidental one? (Like maybe COVID!?!) Is there a thread that could be followed this year? Do the pieces appear obviously to have come from the same organization?
  • Take a look ahead to what will likely happen this year. Is there something that jumps out for you?
  • Now brainstorm (no bad ideas yet!) and develop as long a list of themes as possible. You’ll want to save this list; the ideas will be useful for starting the exercise next year as well. Then winnow, combine, and wordsmith. Be picky.
  • Go with a single theme, rather than multiple themes or sub-themes. Less is more here. Having a theme does not constrain you to only writing and communicating about that topic, but it does mean that the theme should be more visible in your materials than other items. And it will get you thinking about how to connect everything. Repetition aids comprehension for your audiences. Having a theme running through will create the possibility for connection, convergence, and leverage. Your work will be more memorable, and more likely to be retained.
  • Bring Judy Anderson’s concept of “drip feed communications” to bear. Plan a series of news stories and social media posts containing parts of a larger story. For example, if your theme is “Volunteer Engagement in Land Stewardship,” you might want to talk about land management challenges in February, restoration training and work days in May, work party results with before and after photos in August, and stewardship budget needs in the fall appeal (and thank you letters!). To the extent you can, calendar these communications.
  • Make the theme internally visible – meaning post it in big letters on the wall where board and/or staff will see it. Regularly ask yourself whether you can tell what the theme is just from reading some of the communications materials.


I’ll leave you with this: I use January 9th – Saturday – as my cut-off for membership counts. Very few checks arrive in the mail before the 9th that are actually intended to be dated in January. Most of them will have been intended as 2020 gifts. So when we ask, “How many different donors gave money in 2020?” the answer will be counted from those gifts that arrived between January 9, 2020 and January 8, 2021.

And that reminds me of my favorite accounting trick. For each check that arrives between the first and the 8th – Friday – enter it into your database as a 12/31 pledge so that it creates an accounts receivable. That way it counts more officially as a 2020 gift. Then, when you enter the actual check on the date it arrived, it becomes a pledge payment rather than a new gift.






PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.


PS: Those of you who follow this blog closely will recognize parts of this post from the last several New Years. Guilty. But making much of this a New Year’s ritual is a good thing – right?


Photo by Ray Hennessy courtesy of



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1 Comment
  • Carol Abrahamzon
    Posted at 11:44h, 06 January

    Old or new, always helpful. Thank you!