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The Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions For Professional Fundraisers

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Now is the perfect time to create a list of New Year’s resolutions to radically improve your fundraising efforts, raise the morale of your team, and improve your knowledge of this marvelous career as professional fundraisers!

This marks the beginning of my 37th year in this truly rewarding field of professional fundraising. I can thankfully say, in one manner or another, I have touched the vital work of raising funds in some manner for over 30,000 nonprofits. Best of all, I have loved every minute of it!

During a recent lunch with a local fundraising consultant, we discussed various methods to improve this year’s fundraising results. This prompted me to jot down my top ten and since it is end of year, why not call them New Year’s resolutions.

Key New Year’s Resolutions for Professional Fundraisers

 1. Correct Your Mailing Addresses Prior to Every Mailing

The easiest way to improve any mailing campaign results is to have a proper NCOA process administered to your database prior to creating the first envelope. If it has been more than a year or two since this has been done you just might guarantee a full 10-15% improvement!

It is fairly easy to do with a commercial database, usually only a few hundred dollars. It is especially easy with systems like Bloomerang since it is FREE and is automatically done in the background each evening on an ongoing basis.

Try it with you next mailing and see what happens. Your board will love the results.

2. Send Pledge Reminders and Call All Past Due Pledges

When I am asked what can be done to improve fundraising results immediately, this is always my first suggestion. In most cases, the donors who made the pledge have literally forgot or lost track of their payments.  

It is also a great way to reconnect, and to build relationships for further giving in the future. We have had numerous customers with over one million dollars in pledge receivables just waiting to be collected!

3. Personally Ask Each Board Member to Give an Annual Gift in the 1st Quarter

This little endeavor has so many benefits that it should be a top priority for every charity engaged in fundraising!

First, this allows you to state for the balance of the year that your board is giving at the 100% level. Second, it ensures the year is off to a fast start thereby showing everyone that your team is ahead of the game. This allows everyone to be part of, and to support a winner. Finally, this exercise allows you to see if you can truly count on each board member to help you in your fundraising efforts because the first thing any prospect may sometimes ask your board member is if they have already given.

4. Review Your Bylaws

Since recruiting and engaging board members is often the very foundation of fundraising success, you will need to be aware of your charity’s “rules.” Oftentimes those bylaws were just some boilerplate document a far removed law firm or even an intern created. They may not apply now, or worse yet, may actually inhibit your future growth.

Reviewing and updating the bylaws may just be the first step forward you need. Plus, if prospective board members ask to see them, as I always do, you will not be embarrassed by what they find.

5. Properly Prepare Your Form 990 and Share with Your Board

Just like your bylaws, your Form 990 reflects to the outside world your key scorecard of results. It also can be a wonderful marketing tool, since not only do board members review them, but also both prospective and existing donors look them up.

I am appalled that many organizations have a part-time bookkeeper or an outside accountant file their 990 without the CEO and the head of fundraising approving. Many of them cast a poor reflection of the organization and its results each year.   

This is not good for fundraising or recruiting staff, volunteers, and board members!

6. Clean Up Any Custom Database Fields Not Being Used in Your Database

Since we are doing some year-end housekeeping as part of these resolutions, cleaning up your database so filters, queries, scorecards, dashboards, communications and reports are accurate and useful is a must.  

Every campaign consultant I know, which now numbers nearly 500 strong, laments time after time how impossible it is to even begin a campaign with bad data in the database.  Just think what that means to the success of your next direct mail appeal or special event. 

Now this is where a college intern or better yet a knowledgeable volunteer can help in a large manner.

 7. Establish a Legacy Gift Group

You do NOT have to be a planned gift expert in order to establish a Legacy Gift Group for your charity. Legacy related gifts can fund your mission at much higher levels if the model is established.

Simply begin by placing your charity in your own will then asking your CEO and others on your team to do the same. From there, branch out to your board chair, other board members, and then top volunteers.   

After all of those key people are involved, it is easy to plan your first few legacy seminars, where you can invite all of your major donors, names in your database turning 65 in the next two years, those just having children and of course any who have expressed an interest. Simply have the estate planning attorney that is on your board, or the one you are about to ask to the board, lead the session.   

8. Research and Create a List of Your Top 50 Best Donors to Upgrade this Year

This list should be based upon past giving, engagement level, giving to other charities and their ability to give larger amounts.   

Yes, this will take some effort, however the upside here is off the charts. We have seen many of these 50 individuals move from gifts of a few hundred or thousands of dollars to gifts of $50,000 to $100,000 or more.  

Wealth screening tools that integrate into your database are best to help here. Here are a couple of examples in the form of Bloomerang’s Engagement Meter and Generosity Score features. 

9. Set Up Face to Face Meetings with Your Top 50 Upgrade Prospects

The list you spent a little time creating in resolution number 8 now becomes invaluable!

Creating the list provides your road map to follow in setting up your new major gift prospects for this year. Since they are all already donors to your organization setting the appointments should be much easier than going after first-time donors.  

Another hint is to look for human connectors like your board members to assist with ideas for appointments and next steps.  

10. Research and Enroll in at Least One Professional Development Course

Your success rate can only improve in the future as your knowledge of best practices improves. The very best professional fundraisers continually invest in themselves, as well as other members of their team.   

In this day and age of online learning, there are outstanding professional development courses for less than $500 that can be attended anytime day or night. Here is one of the newest ones called the Fundraising Standard


All ten of the resolutions for professional fundraisers above will individually make a huge difference in your fundraising results this year. Just imagine if you can truly achieve all ten of them!

None of them are difficult, they simply require a bit of diligence and effort.   

Here is hoping for a very successful year for all of you reading this post!

Please drop me a note on what happens after you complete the ten resolutions above. My direct email is [email protected]

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  • Jason

    Doing a Form 990 is such a great activity to plan for January. Thanks for the tip!
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