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Congrats! You Survived 2023! Now What?

If you have school aged children, you’ve probably been dragged to a book fair after conferences to look at all the super cool and overpriced items for sale as part of a random PTO fundraising campaign and seen a series called “I Survived.”


And more than likely, you’ve looked at these graphic novels about 9/11 or the Hindenburg tragedy and wondered if your child will pick that, or some Fortnite Learn-to-Read book in exchange for a report from their teacher that lets you know they are not “that kid” in their class.


For those who DON’T know what this book series is, the author Lauren Tarshis lovingly describes it is as “series which tells stories of young people and their resilience and strength in the midst of unimaginable disasters.”


For some reason, there is currently not a “End of Fundraising Year 2023” book published yet.


There probably should be.


While we fundraisers aren’t middle school children, it sure seems like this past year let us know we have a helluva lot to learn about annual giving and what donors need, want, and increasingly what they can support us with.


Lots of interesting news coming out of the nonprofit sector as we start the new year – starting with a story regionally here in the Midwest with organizations reporting flat or significantly reduced fundraising results in Q4 of 2023, that is in stark contrast to the need of services those nonprofits provide skyrocketing.


Rising operational costs, government post-COVID funding support wanning, and a disappearance in the general donor base is creating a perfect storm that will force organizations to reduce staffing, reduce services or seek to merge with another organization as a way to continue their mission.


I don’t know what Santa brought you for Christmas, but you definitely deserved to get an “I survived this fundraising year and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” t-shirt.


There’s more interesting data, nationally, that saw Giving Tuesday – which is a barometer of how end-of-year gifts would look coming in, that suggested more disturbing than a reduction in donations, was another collapse in individual donors to organizations.


With few donors, there are fewer individuals who we can begin to cultivate for future major gifts, leadership positions, and most importantly develop into cheerleaders for the missions we so desperately want to keep moving forward in our communities.


So – with all this doom and gloom, how do we write ourselves into the story as heroes, change the narrative and create a plot twist towards positivity?


Time to get old school, that’s how.


We take a breath. We take stock of what talent, material and stories we have. We muster the strength to remind ourselves that one month, one week or one quarter of fundraising does not make or break an organization or paint the whole picture of our development success.


And we take one step forward.


Here are a few things to keep in mind as we rock into 2024:


1.      Donors are more selective on who they give to, so don’t take it personally that they choose a different organization than yours.


The data we are seeing is that individuals are giving to fewer organizations than they have in the past. Individuals and businesses still want to give, but they are donating to a select group of nonprofits rather than making a splash in a ton of places. They are looking to make impact, but not spread the wealth around as much as they might once have.


And that’s ok.


Sure than means you may have a few more “no” responses when reaching out for a sponsorship or when soliciting individuals for a certain project. But it also frees up space on that “maybe” list to find other entities that might be a better fit anyway. You give yourself more time to go back to those who have given to you in the past. Speaking of which…


2.      Make sure you are paying attention to those who have been your constant cheerleaders


The temptation to look at your end of year donor report, glance at the number of supporters reduced by significantly from last year and begin to hyperventilate is real. And the immediate reaction to desperately find a way to reach out to everyone on God’s green earth to sell them on the idea of donating to your nonprofit is something we have all experienced.




The name of the game this year, is retention. Concentrate on building better and more robust relationships with the individuals who have been with you the longest, have supported you the hardest and have been champions of your mission through thick and thin. We often find ourselves thinking “what if” rather than looking at what we have already, and ignoring those who have always through your mission was amazing leads to this incredible donor attrition rate across the sector. Double down on those who are aligned with your mission. Speaking of which…


3.      Alignment is critical, and should be your top priority when looking for new donors


When mapping out your strategy for cultivating gifts – big or small – alignment of the mission should be your true north when talking with community members about supporting your nonprofit.


Listen. If you are an organization that rescues cats. And you meet a person who says “I hate cats.” It’s probably not a good fit.


And, though you might not have such an easy time curating an explicitly clear value alignment moment like someone wearing a “Never Cats” button on their jacket – make 2024 about asking better questions to get to know potential donors better than any other organization in your community.

Be curious. Be empathetic. Be thoughtful.


And once you find that perfect fit of a human or business, and they seem to vibe with you at that same level, you’ve found yourself a keeper. And aligned keeper. They make the best and more enthusiastic champions of your mission.


Listen. I get it. It’s NOT all sunshine and rainbows out there.


The struggle in the nonprofit industry is real. And it’s difficult on a scale we haven’t seen in quite some time.


But your mantra of simplicity and back to basic relationship building in 2024 is going to make the chaos of 2023 or the potential gong show of 2024 something that you don’t have to worry so much about.  Because you’re gonna surround yourself with aligned cheerleaders who love your mission as much as you do.


And if you need help wrapping your head around all of this? Well, I’m certainly here to walk you back from the precipice.


Go get ‘em gang!




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