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

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


3 January 2023


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


Happy New Year!

Time to start again. January of another year.

2022 is over. Fa, sol, la, ti, Done.


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

2023 yawns before us. It could be anything. It definitely will be something. What will it be for you?


The month of January is named for the ancient Roman God Janus. He was the god of beginnings and symbolized transition from one condition to another: from past to future or from youth into adulthood. Janus was always portrayed as having two faces: one looking backward into the past, and one looking forward into the future. In that sense, he was a doorway, a threshold, a passage.

As we cross our own threshold into 2023, January is both a good time for reflection and a good time for planning – to look back and to look forward. Where have we been? What have we learned? What could we have done differently? What MUST we do differently to get to the results we need in 2023?


For Example: Write yourself a letter.

As a general statement, we spend way too much time in fundraising in the rearview mirror. We base our goals and objectives on our actual results from last year. We assume we will do the same things this year – because that’s what we did last year. Because that’s what we’ve always done. But what if what we’ve always done won’t get us where we need to be?

There is a time and place for candid reflection. And this is it. Did you write yourself a letter last year? – about your 2021 results? The board campaign and major gift development? The membership drive, communications theme, fundraising events, and the development plan as a whole?

If so, now is the 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? What did you learn?

Now assume that you are no longer there a year from now – not anywhere around, in fact. Write your replacement a letter explaining how you got to this point in January 2023. Where your organization is related to fundraising. About your results in 2022 – the board campaign and major gift development. The membership drive, communications theme, fundraising events, and the development plan as a whole.

Talk to this future you about what you were thinking at this time last year. Your priorities and assumptions and how they might have changed. 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 2023? What will you do differently? What MUST you do to be successful, and what MUST you do in 2023 to meet the organizational goals in 2024 or even 2025?

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: Say Thank you!

Was there a donor who made an extraordinary gift (for them!)? Was there a volunteer who really stepped up in a time of need? A Board member who leaned in in a bigger way? Or maybe a staff member who made your life easier in some super-appreciated way (even though it wasn’t their job)?

In your mental review of 2022, identify at least five people who fit one of those descriptions and say thank you in some special and memorable way. A gift card to their favorite coffee (or wine) shop. A book of poetry. A framed photo. Flowers. Chocolate.

Saying thank you this week will set a nice tone for you in January as well.


For example: List your Top 40

Considering your aspirations and goals for 2023, consider curating a list of the forty (or so) relationships that will be the most important to your professional success. Or perhaps revisiting the list you created last year.

Who would make that list for you? Are they mentors? Board members? Donors? Volunteers? Staff relationships?

Whoever they are, hand 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.

Commit to some version of the Best Possible Self Visualization (See last week’s post, Hope and Optimism) to help you visualize meeting your goals for 2023.

Then make a plan.


For example: Adopt a Communications Theme

Here’s a sample formula for developing a communications theme for 2023:

  • 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? 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?
  • 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 in Judy Anderson’s concept of “drip feed communications.” 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 and remind Board members of the theme at Board and committee meetings. Regularly ask yourself whether you can tell what the theme is just from reading some of the communications materials.


For example: Find a Transformative Gift Prospect – or five!

What would a transformative gift look like for your organization? A million dollars? $500,000? $100,000?

Whatever it is, there are probably several donors who could give that amount and might give it under the right circumstances. Name them. Think about each one individually. Why might s/he say YES? And what might YOU do during the year 2023 to make that more likely?

Make a Plan.

Build the relationship.

(The Passionate Giving blog talks about transformational giving this week on their blog. You can find it here.)

Now make similar plans for four more donors.

You want to make plans for at least five donors because you want to hedge your bets on at least one saying yes. You want make these plans period because of what it does for YOU. Treated as individuals, donors are people. Not just ATMs to “appeal” to every October.

Remembering throughout 2023 that relationships matter will be transformative even without the financial success.


I’ll leave you with this from the New York Times:

In 1938, researchers at Harvard set out to learn what makes a person thrive.

They recruited 724 participants, a combination of students at Harvard College and low-income teenage boys in Boston. All were willing to let the researchers track their lives, from childhood troubles to first loves to final days.

Every five years, the researchers gathered health records from the participants. They asked detailed questions about their lives at two-year intervals, and, in later years, took DNA samples and performed brain scans. Twenty-five of the participants even donated their brains to the study after their deaths.

Now, 85 years later, the Harvard Study of Adult Development has expanded to three generations and more than 1,300 descendants of the original subjects; it is, according to the researchers, the longest-running in-depth study on human happiness in the world.

From all the data, one very clear finding has emerged: Strong relationships are what make for a happy life. More than wealth, I.Q., or social class, it’s the robustness of our bonds that most determines whether we feel fulfilled.

If you’re going to do one thing this year to ensure your own health and happiness, the authors maintain, find the time to nurture and develop relationships.


That’s great advice for fundraisers, too.

You can find a more complete article about the study, including a link to a 2015 TED talk about it, here: Good Genes are Nice, but Joy is Better.


Happy New Year! Happy January!

Cheers and Have a Good Week!



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.

Janus Graphic from Storytelling for Everyone


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