Two Lessons from 2020


I thought a lot about how to sum up a ridiculous year. 

And I noticed two things that – again and again – showed up in the organizations that exceeded their goals for the year.

Story about Fundraising

Borrowing from Brené Brown, every organization has a “story” they tell themselves about fundraising.  Their “story” is a set of beliefs about how fundraising works, what their organization can and cannot do, can and cannot say, etc.

Some stories cause more effective fundraising than other stories.  That’s never been more clear than this year.

If you look at the “story about fundraising” told by organizations that succeeded this year, here are some of the beliefs you’ll see again and again:

  • We believe many of our donors would love to give second, third and fourth gifts
  • We believe that regardless of what else is happening in the world, our cause is urgent, it matters, and we’re going to fundraise like it
  • We believe that fundraising is a form of leadership, and we can’t lead if we go silent for long periods of time
  • We believe that demographics are in our favor this year: if the average age of a donor is 69, that means more than half of donors didn’t have a job to lose, had investments that performed incredibly, had fewer places to spend their money this year, and would love to help
  • We believe that our donors are adults and have no problem deciding when to give or not give
  • We believe that giving makes a donor feel great

As we near 2021, how does your organization’s “story about fundraising” need to be changed so that you can raise more money? 


The second thing I noticed was that the organizations who practiced vulnerability raised more money.

They were vulnerable enough to ask for help like they really needed it.  They shared problems the pandemic caused.  The shared their revenue shortfalls and their cancelled events.  They made it very clear to donors that the beneficiaries and/or the organization needed help and needed it now.

They shared what would happen if they didn’t raise the money.

When they did that – without fail – they were inundated with gifts.  Multiple gifts from Majors.  First-time gifts from people on their email list.  Upgraded gifts from Mass donors.  In my 27 years of fundraising I’ve never seen anything like the scope and length of this fundraising surge.

Asking with vulnerability is a skill that can be developed.  It’s uncomfortable at first.  It’s (unfortunately) not what’s taught in our sector.  But vulnerability leads to connection.  And connection leads to donations. 

Thank You for Being a Fundraiser

You were needed more than ever this year.  Thanks for showing up.  Thanks for working so hard. 

Thanks for hitting the wall, taking a breath, and hitting the wall again.

The initial signs are pointing to a great year-end fundraising season – I pray that’s the case for you and your organization.

And I hope you get a few days off for the holidays.  I know I sure need them.

And I breathe a little easier knowing that donors are incredible.  And they aren’t done yet. 

But your donors can’t change the world through your organizations without you.

Thank you.


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.

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