Year-End Fundraising: Advice from a Preschooler’s Perspective

Once upon a time, in another life, I taught kindergarten. It was a great experience, working with children at an age that was so open to learning, and at the same time already starting to have their own ideas and passions in life. As Robert Fulghum explained in All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, it’s the simple rules you learn at the beginning of your life that are often the most important. As we grow older and get bombarded with information, and systems, and “expert advice” from every direction, we sometimes lose track of those simple rules.

It’s December 1, and 30% of all charitable gifts for 2017 will be made in the next 31 days. As you are busy crafting your year-end letters and appeals, take a moment and consider going back to some of the simple rules we all learned when we were young.

1. It’s not about you.
One of the first things we learn about the world is that it doesn’t revolve around us. This applies to our nonprofits as well. Our organizations exist as a conduit for donors to make a difference. Donors are giving to meet a need or solve a problem that is important to them, and your organization just happens to be an agent designed to meet that need. When you speak to your donors, instead of telling them how they are helping your organization, show them how their gift will impact the needs in your community.

2. Be grateful.
Remember how you felt during the holidays when you were young? When a piece of candy or a box of crayons was the best thing in the whole world? This is the essence of gratitude, which is so important during this time of year.

Try this: Before you start writing your next letter or email, pause and take a minute to reflect upon 10 things that you are grateful for. Write them down and put them in a prominent place on your desk where you can see them. They will make you smile, and your gratitude will come through in your writing – conveying a sense of respect and appreciation to your donors.

3. Be real.
As kids we don’t know how to be anything other than who we are. We make mistakes, lose our tempers, and learn to forgive ourselves and move on. While there are plenty of tips and rules of thumb out there (this post being one of them), there is no perfect formula that will instantly get you millions of dollars. Your perfect message is one that comes from your heart, and treats your donors as friends who share your passion for making a difference.

Try this: Shut off your computer or phone, take out a piece of paper, and write what you would want someone to say to you over a cup of coffee. Keep it short – 1-2 sentences. Read it out loud and listen to how it sounds. Now use this as the basis of your next appeal. You can continue to revise your language over time, but your donors will resonate with what is authentic to you.

4. Keep it simple.
Despite what advertising tries to make us believe, we don’t need lots of fancy things. Kids can be just as happy playing in a mud puddle as they are at a circus. Let go of trying to find a gimmick. Your appeal needs three things to get a response: A reason for donors to want to give (i.e. what will a donation do?), a clear call to action (if you don’t ask, they won’t give) and a way to make a gift. Make these three things your focus. You don’t need 100 pictures, or 10 different types of fonts, or fancy words. One more thing: if you have multiple letters or emails you are sending, make sure your message is consistent across them all.

5. Show success.
Just like the two-year old who twirls around and says “Ta-da!”, everyone wants to feel valued and successful in what they’ve done. Your donors are no different. Appreciate your donors and show them what their donations have achieved. You don’t need a lot of fancy graphs and charts to do this, and often just a simple picture or a quote from one of your participants or beneficiaries will say more than a 20-page report.

Next Steps:
Thank you for reading my very first blog post! I’d love to hear from you about what you are doing during this final fundraising month of 2017. Share your ideas below, or contact me at

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  1. Kate December 2, 2017 at 7:22 pm - Reply

    Jennie, how do we combat donor fatigue at this time of year? There are so many appeals from so many organizations, and we’ve reached out to our stakeholders multiple times at this point. How do we keep them engaged without overwhelming them? What would a kindergartner do? 😉

    • Jennie Stokum December 3, 2017 at 1:25 am - Reply

      Hi Kate,

      Great question, as all of us working with nonprofits know how many appeals are floating around this time of year. While we can’t cut down on the number of appeals that are out there, here’s my kindergarten teacher perspective: When we’re in kindergarten we start to understand the value of not just receiving gifts, but also of giving them. So what’s so great about giving gifts? It’s being able to see how meaningful our gift is for the recipient. Think back to watching your mom’s face when she opened the colored macaroni necklace, or the pine cone bird feeder that you lovingly crafted for her. She saw the value of your gift and appreciated it. This is what our donors want from us as organizations. They want the value of their gift to be recognized, and they want to be appreciated for their gift.

      So at this time of year, show your donors what their gifts accomplish and how they’ve made a difference. Let them know you appreciate them. And at the same time, give yourself permission to ask (it’s that call to action that’s so important). After all, this is the season of giving, and giving a gift that is appreciated makes us feel good.

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