March Madness

Mar 22, 2023

Welp, it’s March Madness. And I’m not talking about basketball. Some days, some weeks, and some months are just harder than others. And this nonprofit job that we all do, it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s been a Mad March for me.

This just in:  You’re human. I’m human. And we have a difficult job to do.

We’re not out here brand marketing. We’re not Tide or Crest or even Nike or Coach. We’re conversion marketers. We’re doing our best to convert those who have an affinity for what we do into donors who have the capacity to do something with each ask. You make that look easy. I know better.

Make It Look Easy Dragons Den GIF by CBC

So, let’s talk about some things you can do when your March week feels like Madness.

Left Brain Marketing Methods: Just like those ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry’ Snickers commercials, you’re also not you when you’re tired, burned out, frustrated, or weary. You need to learn to listen to your inner voice, so you can take care of you. I’ll share some things I do that just might help you refresh yourself for another day of painstakingly important work.

Right Brain Marketing Moxie: You brain is miraculous. So, you need to take care of your body’s computer. Research shows that chronically burnt-out people have brains that look similar to people who have experienced trauma. That leads to a lack of creativity. That leads to phoning it in—and I’m not talking about a Zoom call. Therefore, burnout is no joking matter. What happens to creatives when they can’t create? Well, it’s not pretty, but you need know about it, watch for it, and plan for it.

It might be March Madness, but it doesn’t have to be that way the other 11 months!calendar animated illustration GIF by Thoka Maer

Left Brain Marketing Methods:  People need to buy laundry detergent and toothpaste.  They want to buy name brand clothes. But not everyone is philanthropic. There’s a subset of people in your community who were either born with a spirit of generosity or were taught that by their parents and grandparents. Those are your people.

But those people have big lives. They have kids in college, daughters getting married, 401k plans, and stock market dips. So, when you ask and they say ‘no’, you have an understanding that it really means ‘not right now’. But it often takes a lot of hard work to get those ‘not right now’ replies. And sometimes you get a string of non-yesses, even when you’re working hard. It’s really not personal. And you know it. However, it doesn’t make you any less tired. In many ways, it feels like you were running full speed on a treadmill. You finally jump off, both exhausted and sweaty, only to realize that your scenery never changed. That leads to burn-out and it happens in the nonprofit sector, especially with fundraisers, all the time. In fact, says that the average time a fundraiser spends on the job is 16-months. That’s an M as in March and Madness!

awkward mm GIF by M&M’S Chocolate

That’s why you must incorporate some left brain strategies to serve yourself, your donors, and your beneficiaries. It’s likely not surprising that I say to serve yourself—it’s true…do this as a form of self-care. But you might be surprised that I say to serve your donors and your beneficiaries. But it’s a valid point. Your donors and the people your donors benefit need you! They need someone who cares about your mission. They need someone who takes time out of their day to read a blog. They need someone who takes courses to learn how to help donors leave a charitable legacy, execute a gift annuity, or explain a 'give it twice' trust. They need you, your passion, your brain, and your giant generosity-filled heart to march on another day, week, and year to further your mission.

Mission Accomplished Conan Obrien GIF by Team Coco

So, these are some things I recommend to add some longevity to your nonprofit career:

Get plenty of sleep; don’t hesitate to take a nap. I love a good nap. Heck, my family knows this so well that they got me a t-shirt that says ‘Gangsta Napper’. I wear it with pride.

You all know you should eat well, but I’ll just say…eat. Take your lunch break and feed your body and your mind.

Ask for help. We rate each teammate's stress daily. On a scale of 1-10, we like working in that 4-7 sweet spot. Less than 4 and you’re not challenged. More than 7 and you’re stressed. So, when we see that a teammate is an 8, we can offer up help. We do this because sometimes, especially with smaller teams, it’s hard to ask for help. But offering to help feels good and builds your team, too.

season 1 toilet wine and the earl of sandwich GIF by mom

If it’s at all feasible, get a Leadership Coach. I love mine and have been working with her for three years now. Sometimes she sees my stress before I do! Plus, she gives me great strategies on how to recognize it and what to do when I see it coming. It's the best investment in me that I’ve ever made. It’s also an investment I made for my entire team!

Use your time off—that’s what it’s for. Don’t save it for a rainy today. It’s raining. Use. It. It’s like refueling. You must fill your tank or you’ll suffer the consequences of running out of gas at the most inconvenient time.

And finally, celebrate victories big and small. We have a bell in our office that anyone can ring to celebrate. We’ve celebrated a $1M donation and we’ve also celebrated a donor thank you card that was really heartfelt. We’ve celebrated National Pickle Day and we’ve celebrated when a grantee met their fundraising goal. In true March Madness form, don’t wait for that half-court shot at the buzzer; celebrate those layups, too!


Right Brain Marketing Moxie:  You know how people always say it felt like slow motion when they were in a car accident? That’s because your brain downshifts in a crisis. And when you’re stressed, your brain knows. In fact, it was the first to know—it told you! An anxiety-ridden brain goes into hiding versus exploring. And creativity needs exploration. Survival always wins over creativity—and rightly so. You’re tired and uninspired. Fight or flight mode is in full gear. And mustering up creativity during this time feels like a form of torture. In fact, I'm experiencing it right this second. I know this isn't my most creative blog--but it's ok.  It' s my 70th blog at and today's is just one of those very real, raw days. I'm being vulnerable with you and I'm tired. So, I'm taking a break the rest of this week and maybe, just maybe, if I can publicly admit this is hard work and I need a break, so can you!

kit kat chocolate GIF

Of course, you can execute any of the left brain ideas above. Or do a simple Google search on ways to beat burnout or reduce stress; there are a million ideas out there for a reason. We all suffer at some point.

What I don’t want you to do is to ignore your body stressors and keep trying to find joy in creating. It’ll feel like forced fun. When I was a teenager, we used to joke that our family get-togethers were forced fun. Nothing wrong with family, but we had friends and boyfriends and we were missing out on time with them.

So, here’s my right brain advice to you.

  1. Do all those left brain things I mentioned above.
  2. Or, find your bliss in ways that are meaningful to you—exercise, meditation, connection, art, etc. Whatever works for you to bring you back to your needed balance. Go buy the Nike’s if you must, Just Do It.
  3. Repeat Steps 1 and/or 2, as needed.
  4. Begin creating once again.

Creativity Create GIF by XYZ Type

I know, I know, you might be thinking”But Dawn, I have to do my job!” Sure you do, but you don’t have to make it more difficult than it needs to be right now.

  • Recycle an old idea in a new way.
  • Borrow an idea.
  • Do less, but just better.
  • Orrrrrrrr, forget the direct mail piece and give them a call or go visit them.

I worry about you. This work is hard. And worse yet, you make it look easy. So, your awesome Board thinks it is easy. Anybody on the inside know it’s anything but.

I don't want you to quit. I don't want our field to live on another day without you. I don't want a fixable, temporary stress today to have the permanent solution of you exiting the field tomorrow—we need you. We do!

So, do the right thing and take care of you. Let’s keep the March Madness on the court and out of our offices! Today's the day...shoot your shot!

All My Best,

[email protected]
dawn brown creative, llc.  

P.S. Fundraising is hard, even though you make it look
oh-so easy! ♥

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