“You can’t have fun without Excellence.” – Get BOTH in YOUR Year-End Results

by Marcy Heim on September 12, 2018

Professor Mike Leckrone, 82, is completing his 50th year directing the Marcy Trumpet with Prof MikeUniversity of Wisconsin Marching Band. He shared his plans with humor. “My doctors said I needed to slow down… so I’m looking for new doctors.” For most of my undergrad years the band was not open to women. Sensing this was Mike’s last year directing, I was determined to fulfill a life-long goal and be a part of it – even if only for a few hours on the practice field enrolled as a ‘special student.’ No matter if you’re 18 or 80 getting into the band is based on mastering the unique marching style, endurance, musicianship AND how far above 100% you push.

Professor Leckrone knows my fundraising for the band endowment, as a band donor myself and jumping at his invitation to sing in his famous Varsity Band Concert (you can see it here).

Mike said, “You can’t have fun without excellence!” to more than 350 returning and prospective band members, me among them, after the 4th day of the rigorous try-outs.  Now let me connect the dots on how this applies to your Year-End fundraising.  Your year-end results CAN be fun to achieve…but only with excellence in planning and execution.Planning

1. Get ahead of the (football) game.

Mike is creating his football shows MONTHS ahead. The band is over-prepared and early for everything.

My clients have heard this since mid-August.  I get really riled up this time of year.  Why?  Because I KNOW that if we just start THINKING about Year-End NOW we will have both more fun and better results.

NOW is the TIME to start thinking and planning for Year-End.

You know it is coming. And I will promise you there will be hiccups to deal with along the way.


  • What can I do NOW to make everything flow more smoothly?
  • What went well last year?
  • What was a complete panic where I said, “NEVER AGAIN!”
  • Did I ever feel bad about my family last year…(sigh)?

Stop. Reflect. Think. NOW.

Right now go to your calendar and set aside 1-2 hours with your laptop or a yellow pad and just remember last year.

  • Were you frantic to get important year-end major donor appointments?
  • Did you pay extra to get the year-end letters printed and mailed?
  • Was there a big typo in a year-end email?
  • Were you running like crazy to be ready to celebrate Rosh Hashanah last week?
  • Were you wrapping Christmas gifts at 2 am the night before Christmas?
  • Did you fall asleep at the Thanksgiving table?

When you get a head start

I am talking your WHOLE life – not just your work.  Do a full brain dump onto a piece of paper or into a word doc. I used to groan loudly and say, “Why do these stupid stores have Halloween out already?” They are helping you get going and you need to start NOW. At this writing, my house is decorated for Halloween.  NO candy yet – it would be consumed by Halloween, but I will enjoy these decorations for 2 full months.

2. Draft your 3 KEY Messages and overall theme.

Whenever someone hears your organization’s name…what do they think?

What do you WANT them to think?


“Investing in tomorrow’s leaders with XYZ yields big dividends.”

Key messages:

“Our participants rise above self-doubt.”

“Our graduates change health care and science literacy in their communities.”

“Your giving supports 1287 participants in 32 counties just like Joe from Mayville (his story).”

I know you are supposed to create your overall theme first, but I think FIRST write up your 3 KEY MESSAGES and they will lead you to the overall theme.  Then pick the theme, colors, photos, etc for everything.  Get everyone together and have a blast doing this. (Wine helps)

3. Relationship Building

Professor Leckrone has 50 years of UW students, band members (some multi-generation), band families, 80,000+ fans at the football games, athletic partners, band concert attendees most of whom he has inspired in person. Sure, he has a zillion likes on Facebook, but that’s never used to REPLACE personal connections – only enhance them.

NOW…make a list of every potential major donor visit you want to have between now and December 15th.  Call, text, write, all of these folks – NOW.  Your message?  “This happened today (10 word story) and it made me think of you and how much we appreciate you.”  For those prospective major donors you must see prior to year-end say, “I promise to be in touch again to set up some time for us to get together before the year is through.”  Your next call is, “Remember I promised to be in touch….”  This one thing will make you SO much more comfortable setting up your year-end donor visits.  Alternately, you don’t do anything now and you feel like a money-grubber in a panic calling in November and December for that year-end gift.  You are kicking yourself for not reaching out SOMEHOW.  Do it now.

Take the same action for your annual appeal work.  “Giving Tuesday – Hold the date now!”  “Look for how you can be a part of our annual Work-Study program success – you’ll get a letter in November.”  “Like the last minute to give? (13% of all donors do!) Look for 3 amazing stories to wrap up the last three days of your year with us.”

4. Show Appreciation

Professor Leckrone talks about everyone else who has made the band great — the Athletic Department, parents, Professors, fans….constantly giving specific examples of how THEY supported the band and shared Badger Spirit.  In reality, Mike makes the band great and sometimes these very groups get in the way of the band’s success.  Mike makes them ALL PARTNERS in the success of the band.

For your most MAJOR DONORS, ask, “What can I do so you really understand just how much I appreciate you?”  They will tell you and they will enjoy the question.  Listen and do it.

Think of creating a steady stream of appreciation….involving as many others as possible all with a single focus – expressing sincere and specific thanks – with NO ASK!

Phone calls from your board, staff, volunteers and recipients…Script this.  “Thank you…I am simply calling to say, “Thank you for sharing the vision, values and goals of XYZ.”  Shut up and hang up. NO ask!


Mail a postcard. Send an email.  THANKS with NO ASKS!  Just results of giving.  Just impact of giving. Just the JOY OF GIVING!  This is FUN!

Thank your family and close friends.   Wish them well for the holidays.

5. Block your time NOW

Marching Band practice is 3-5 pm every day during football season…plus some extra for music rehearsals.  When you are in the band, you block off ALL this time and then get everything else done around it.

Time to planAs you approach year-end, block off your time now for MAJOR GIFT SUCCESS!  Here’s how.

1. For larger organizations – get the plan together TOGETHER!

2. When you juggle many things…..MOST time for your major gift calls.

3. WRITE ALL YOUR YEAR-END MAJOR GIFT ASKS BEFORE OCT 1st!  If you don’t know what to ask for, write your best guess and get an appointment to test your ask.

4. Take off for the most important family traditions, school shows with the kids, etc.

5. Who do you need with you on your calls? Connect with them and get open dates to use in setting up visits.

6. Schedule work blocks to create postcards, appeal letters, and year-end emails.  Share for input as needed but remember…YOU are the development professional!   Do these in the order they need to launch.  Delegate whenever possible.  Remember – simple, clear, direct. NO jargon. Few we’s and I’s.

6. Define Excellence!

Notice that excellence is NOT perfection.  Seeking perfection stymies our productivity.  Embrace the notion that it is “good enough.”  (This took me forever to grasp – seemed like failure somehow.)

Does it help the giver make the giving decision that will bring them joy?

Do you make it easy to give?

Do you give them a second and third chance? (It’s a busy time you know!)

Have you made your own gift joyfully?

Excellence is doing those things well that add to your results.  It is NOT doing Make things much betterthe newest, latest greatest thing. It is not doing everything. It is resisting those “distractions” that everyone is talking about.

You can’t have fun without excellence.  A small shift in your thinking will yield big results.  YOU can have fun this year-end and experience excellent success.  I believe it for you.  And when you believe, you’ll be believed!

Invest in JOY®



Marcy Heim is a trusted authority in the development profession and helps organizations and educational institutions boost their major gift programs through artful, long-term relationship building that dramatically increases fundraising success while promoting increased staff job satisfaction. To receive a free chapter from Marcy’s book, Empower Your Board to Serve as Effective Development Ambassadors, click here.

Questions:  Contact KK Konicek at KK@MarcyHeim.com

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