What Were the “Lessons Learned”?

Written by Nadine Gabai-Botero

December 15, 2022


As fundraisers, we spend each year shifting from one project to another to make sure we're maximizing every opportunity for support. From conducting multiple appeal campaigns to making sure your individual donor program is expanding and your pipeline is strong; ensuring you have compelling program details to share with major donors; strengthening your team and hiring to fill gaps… the list is endless and always growing! But, as you check off items on your to-do list, how often do you reflect on how you did, or what you should change for next time? 

I'm constantly thinking about the "lesson learned" in my life and work. It's something I've done for years and find it increasingly helpful as I tackle challenges, try new approaches, and make changes to refine processes. 

Fundraising Lessons Learned

Below are a few elements that are key to helping me think about what worked and what didn't. Before you leave 2022 completely in the dust, perhaps you want to reflect on a project or two?

Did the project achieve its intended outcome?

When projects get the green light, each one should have defined goals, such as raising a certain amount of revenue, renewing a percentage of donors, engaging lapsed supporters, etc. As you consider the goal(s)...how did you do? Did you come close? What were the top three reasons why or why not? I suggest capturing these in a document vs. just thinking about them, so you or another team member can look back when starting a similar project in the future to understand what happened and what you want to change (or keep!).

Were you able to realize your vision?

Whether or not the project achieved its goals, was it executed according to what you'd envisioned? Perhaps you're working with a consulting firm that created a brief, or an internal team came together to craft language and manage data and timelines. Whoever was involved, if you haven't already, reach out and gather input about the process to understand what worked and where the project fell short. Is this an idea that has legs and could be considered in an improved form for next year? What could be saved?

Was it worth the effort?

This is probably the one question that DOESN'T get asked enough. Even if you reached your goal, and even if your vision for the project was executed flawlessly, you must always ask: "Was it worth it?" If you consider staff bandwidth and possible burnout if it was a major endeavor, and the opportunity costs for all the projects that didn't move forward to make room for this one, determining whether the time and costs justified the project is key. I've often seen those in leadership positions are particularly reluctant to question projects that happen year after year. Don't get caught in that trap! Be ruthless in your analysis while also thinking about non-tangible benefits.

What would you do differently next time?

The time to think through what you would change isn't just as you're starting to plan the next version of this project. It's immediately after the project is complete. That is when the elements that worked and those that didn't are fresh in your mind. And when you've gotten feedback, and thought about how you might shift the focus or combine it with another project. Sure, you're probably already behind in executing your next initiative -- so who has time for pondering? You do! This is the best way to improve outcomes from one project to the next.

One last note to keep in mind about this process: it works wonders for your personal life! Vacation that didn't quite go as planned? Party that was a huge success but just about killed you? Ask yourself these questions afterwards. I think you'll see that some deliberate and mindful review can go a long way in making small (or large) shifts to improve future outcomes.


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