Optimistic or Pessimistic?

Think positive.

Organizations that are optimistic about their fundraising are more likely to raise more money than organizations that are pessimistic about their fundraising.

It’s a classic case of how beliefs shape actions, and then actions shape results.

Beliefs Shape Actions

If an organization is pessimistic, you think “we don’t want to overwhelm our donors” so you don’t send a second year-end appeal or follow-up emails. Because of this, all the people who didn’t see your first appeal, and all the people who might otherwise give you another gift, don’t get the chance.

If an organization is pessimistic, you think “everyone is doing Giving Tuesday and donors’ inboxes are overwhelmed” so you don’t participate in Giving Tuesday. Because of this, your donors who thought of you on the morning of Giving Tuesday and would have loved the chance to help… don’t.

If an organization is pessimistic, you think “if a major donor hasn’t given a gift by this point, they probably aren’t going to.” Because of this, instead of calling all the major donors who haven’t given a gift yet to give a friendly reminder and providing a very real service to many donors, organizations move their focus on to other things.

Actions Shape Results

If you’re optimistic at year-end and mail two printed appeals, you’ll raise more money and retain more donors than if you send just one appeal.

If you’re optimistic at year-end and participate in Giving Tuesday, you’ll raise money from donors (and non-donors!) who like to give Giving Tuesday gifts.

If you’re optimistic at year-end and call all of your major donors who haven’t given a gift yet, you’ll receive many gifts and have conversations with donors who tell you, “Thanks so much for calling! It’s been a crazy year and I hadn’t gotten to sending you a gift yet, so I appreciate it!”

All of which result in raising more money.

Beliefs Drive Tactics

My point is that an organization’s beliefs – the “stories we tell ourselves” about fundraising and donors – determine the shape and boundaries of the organization’s fundraising programs.

Of course, human resources, cash on hand, knowledge about how to set up a giving page, all of those very real variables also affect fundraising programs.

But in my experience, beliefs are the primary strategy-setters and boundary-creators.

So this year-end, are you optimistic or pessimistic? That will tell you a lot about how you can expect your next 6 weeks to go.

If, after reading this, you decide to be more optimistic, it’s not too late to:

  • Mail a second year-end appeal
  • Send out three emails on Giving Tuesday
  • Call major donors who haven’t yet given a gift this calendar year
  • Ask Board Members who haven’t give a gift yet this year to give so that you can enter next year saying that your organization has 100% Board participation
  • Send out three to five emails on the last three days of the year

You can use optimism as a tool to help your organization raise more money and do more good.


Steven Screen is Co-Founder of The Better Fundraising Company and lead author of its blog. With over 25 years' fundraising experience, he gets energized by helping organizations understand how they can raise more money. He’s a second-generation fundraiser, a past winner of the Direct Mail Package of the Year, and data-driven.

3 comments on “Optimistic or Pessimistic?

  1. Thanks. This came just as I was thinking we might be overwhelming our donors with GivingTuesday and year-end so close together. You strengthened my resolve to ask multiple times between now and the end of the year.

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