Development Dialogue: Summer To-Do List


Breathe, Appreciate Beauty and Nature, Relax 


By Ron Fredman

I find myself beneath a lovely White Oak, catching the beauty of the Missouri Ozarks and catching my breath one deep inhale at a time.  

After finishing a very intense season of performances, school and outreach, and an even more intense race to our fundraising and overall organizational goals. I admit it. I’m beat. 

What I’m experiencing is not unique. Fatigue – and the risk of burnout – is quite prevalent among development professionals. Pressures, stress, high expectations, increasing demands abound; the driving desire to succeed, and the willingness to self-sacrifice for the good of the cause, are realities of our psyches.  

The cost can be great on the mind and the body, productivity and attitude, and health and well-being. It’s what the Harvard Business Review called “the epidemic of the modern workplace.”

Perhaps it’s no surprise that the average tenure among fundraising professionals is a mere 16 months, according to a study by Cygnus Applied Research. It’s no more than two or three years for an organization’s chief fundraiser, according to research by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Certainly, there are other factors contributing to this revolving door – desire for greater pay, lack of positive reinforcement, and career advancement among them.  

But whatever the cause – and I contend fundraiser fatigue is among the most insidious – a 2013 headline in The Chronicle of Philanthropy should be a shout of warning for all: “Half of Fundraisers in the Top Job Would Like to Quit.”

This is not good for the professionals, and not good for the organizations they serve. 

As a development professional, what can you do? From a variety of online sources, papers in psychology journals, and anecdotes from development officers nationwide: 

  • Remind yourself you are more important than your job. Seek a balance of work and life. Resist temptation to take work home with you … or to check e-mails at 3:00 a.m.
  • Take time off and unplug. Walk away. Find your own White Oak in the Ozarks (or whatever and where ever peace abounds). Then breathe deeply. The company will be there when you return … and both will be better off because you renewed yourself.
  • Get healthy. Improve your eating habits. Cut down on the caffeine. Watch your alcohol intake. Go to bed earlier. Exercise, even if it’s no more than a brisk, 10-minute walk during lunch.  
  • Set boundaries and realize you don’t have to go it alone. Assign tasks to others and trust they will be accomplished. Learn to say “no.”
  • Return to the hobbies and activities you once found pleasurable. Make plans and enjoy.
  • Stay focused on the positives, those successes great and small, that define you and your efforts. If you’re on a team, or leading a team, share sincere compliments publicly. Surround yourself with positive people.
  • Don’t ruminate on the negatives – real or imagined. Stop being so hard on yourself.
  • Take an inventory of those situations that cause stress, anxiety, worry and frustration. Next to each item, write at least one action you will implement to reduce or remove the stressor. Then make time to give yourself permission to follow through.
  • Prioritize activities; not everything is urgent, critical or must-do now. Give yourself breaks every day.
  • Focus on why the work matters to you. Recommit to your organization’s mission, its people and the joys you derive from what you do.
  • Write a story about fatigue, follow your own advice. Then laugh and just relax. There. I feel better already! 

Ron Fredman, chief development officer at Kansas City Ballet, is well known for beyond-the-horizon thinking, deceptively tough questions, nurtured expectations and enthusiastic partnership. He is a passionate fundraiser and dedicated relationship builder. He has enjoyed many years in arts fundraising, including record-breaking seasons as the chief fundraiser for the Kansas City Symphony and Houston Symphony. He joined the Kansas City Ballet as chief development officer in the fall of 2012 and has continued the string of fundraising successes. His background includes more than a decade as a national fundraising consultant with Hartsook Companies, where he last served as executive vice president. He has guided arts and cultural organizations, social services, youth organizations, schools, religious institutions, health care, professional and trade associations, foundations and more. Beyond solid fundraising leadership, he also provides senior-level expertise in management, strategic planning and marketing. 

Ron is a frequent speaker at national, regional and local fundraising and business conferences, where his energy, interactive style and common sense draw strong reviews. He has designed and taught business courses at the corporate and community-college level, and has written for many publications. He began his career as a sportswriter at The Kansas City Star. Ron studied political science at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and served as an adjunct faculty at Lansing (Mich.) Community College. Ron is chair of Dance/USA’s Development Directors & Staff Affinity Group.

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