How to Stay Sane as a Nonprofit Professional During the Giving Season


If you’re like me, you’ve just finished sending out 10,000 solicitation letters.

And with all the increased donations coming in during the giving season comes increased donor data entry, increased new donors from your online Giving Tuesday campaign, and increased thank yous to send out.

Perhaps you’ve even had a few too many major donor events, trying to – you know – rub some shoulders while people are trying to decide where to make their end-of-year donations – people gotta get those tax breaks!

You’re waking up at 6, working till 10pm, and you see no end in sight.

Although it’s the giving season and you’re getting 40% of your funds in, you’re probably still going crazy. All of the stuff is a lot of stuff.

So take a step back, take a deep breath, and follow these 6 steps for non-profit leaders to stay sane during the giving season.

1. Make a list and check it twice.

There are so many things we should be thankful for.

Maybe it’s the client walking in the door every morning. The client who, even though you’re responding to emails frantically, adds a little joy and happiness to your day.

Maybe you work in an administrative office and you don’t get to see the direct impact that your work does on the individuals you serve every day. Well, now’s your chance!

Remind yourself of all of the things you’re grateful for.

Right now, grab a piece of paper, grab your pen, and write down five things you’re grateful for this holiday season…

  • Work life,
  • Home life,
  • Your children,
  • The fact that your children are not there…
  • Whatever you’re thankful for.

Write it down. Make it real. Make it concrete.

And then, take a breath and put that somewhere visual. Right by your computer.

And when you’re inputting your 100th donor from that 100th donation that you’re still doing a week later from the Giving Tuesday campaign, take a breath, look at that list, and remember why you do what you do.

2. Slow down.

Sometimes we get so overwhelmed about all of the things.


  • Solicitation letters,
  • Thank you cards,
  • Special events,
  • Marketing material,
  • That annual report,
  • That sponsorship packet you need to get out for your event coming out in April.

It’s a lot of stuff.

And it’s difficult to just slow down and do the things.

But if you’re feeling overwhelmed, if you have too much to do…

(I should take my own advice on this.)

Slow down. Make a list. And knock things out.

Do one thing at a time and do it well.

What’s a better way to approach things?

  1. Be so overwhelmed all the time you’re just running around like crazy you’re overwhelmed by all the things you have to do.
  2. Or, start doing the things.

So if the thing you need to do first and top priority is draft a press release about a client story in hopes the newspaper will pick it up…

Stop reading this article, take a breath, and write the press release.

3. Be the New Years Resolutioners to the gym.

This is the advice that, as I’m writing this, I realize I need to take.

Exercise elevates your mood and makes you feel better.

Especially when you’re eating all this holiday junk and all the cookies sitting in the breakroom and all the extra stuffing and carbs from all the potlucks you’re having at the agency office.

Which, we know you are.

You gotta balance that out and sweat out some of those extra carbs and sugars.

So instead of waiting until January 1 to exercise, carve out some time in your schedule. Even if it’s just two days next week, carve out some time before the holidays to hit the gym.

Not only will you feel better, but when you get that exercise in and show up to work the next day, you’ll be able to concentrate better.

So carve out 30 minutes and hit the gym. And forgive yourself for not working for an hour so you can hit the gym and take a shower.

It’ll be worth it when you can concentrate better at your organization the next morning.

…and aren’t still in pain from the 20 cookies you just ate.

4. Create your light at the end of the tunnel.

My recommendation to you if you’re feeling so stressed out about all the extra work you have coming in and all the extra minutia of work you have coming in during the Giving season:

Take a step back, take a breath, and plan.

Close your door, or come in at 6am one morning.

And make a plan for 2018.

Maybe it’s:

  • planning your non-profit’s marketing message to correspond with what’s happening at the national level during different months
  • or maybe you’re planning action steps for that fundraising event coming up in April

Make a plan today.

I know it’s strange to say hey, I know you have all this stuff going on right now, focus on that thing that’s in the future!

But you need to set yourself up for success.

All that weight of those little tasks you know you need to do and are holding you down?

Once you write down a plan you’ll be able to slow down, take a breath, and put that extra weight on the side.

Tell yourself: when I leave for the holidays, I’m going to put this plan on my Outlook calendar and block out 4 hours to review the plan.

So you don’t even think about that extra weight.

Don’t let that thing that doesn’t have to do with now occupy pieces of your brain.

So you know that thing that’s secretly nagging you?

  • Take a breath.
  • Make a plan.
  • Write down the action steps.
  • And don’t think about it until you need to.

Related Reading: Approach Special Events the Right Way!

5. Focus on your why.

We all do what we do because we believe in the mission and purpose.

But when the Giving season comes, we’re all so crazy about what centerpiece to do and what this invitation should look like, and how many stamps do I need to buy from the post office for mailing.

We’re all focused on those things that we really don’t focus on why.

Be mission-driven in your daily life and think about how what you do (even purchasing those stamps) really impacts the people we serve.

That’s going to help you stay sane.

You’re going to be less stressed that the printer got your print job wrong (I’ve been there).

Be intentional. Focus on intention.

And every time you’re making that 20th phone call to invite that major donor to the luncheon you scheduled on December 18th (I know, it’s just around the corner) remember why you’re truly doing what you’re doing.

6. Laugh and have a drink.

When all else fails, and you just feel like you’re at you’re breaking point, step away and have some fun.

Grab some eggnog, grab some champagne, grab your fellow non-profit colleague who’s equally stressed…

And get the heck out of the office and have a drink.

One thing I love to do with local executive directors and development directors is talk about big picture things while not sitting in the conference room – but over a meal and over a drink in a casual environment.

It helps you be less stressed and to really get to the nitty-gritty of that genius idea.

Those genius ideas rarely happen when you’re knocking out all the details at your agency.

Those genius ideas happen outside the office, and then you implement them at the agency during the day.

So, leave your laptop and notebook behind. Grab your favorite genius colleague and go grab a glass of chardonnay.

This is where the magic’s going to happen as we reduce our stress during the giving season and really set ourselves up for success in 2018.

Happy holidays, and Godspeed!


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