Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Resolutions

It’s New Year’s Even, so naturally I’m thinking about what I should be resolving to do better this coming year.

This past year has been (professionally) a fantastic journey. It was my first full year of full-time consulting. As I worked with an array of truly terrific clients and projects, I found myself experiencing a number of what I’ve called in the past “Oh yeah” moments.

These are not those epiphanies when it all makes sense. These are, rather those things—often small things—that you know, but for some inexplicable reason have ceased to follow through with. Follow through, taking all the steps from point to point until you reach an end, is too often one of those forgotten things I’ve had to re-find. Oh, yeah.

Sometimes it’s been a specific technique. You know, like look through the donors to last year’s annual appeal who didn’t respond this year. Call the ones above a certain giving level. Write a very personal letter to those below.

More often it’s been a way of thinking. I’ve met too many people who want to tell me why they can’t do something and sometimes during the conversation I find myself caught up in that negativity. Then I step away and, oh yeah. Let’s look at this from the other side: why can we do something? It’s amazing how the ideas begin to flow.

Yesterday, a friend gave me David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. In it he talks about how lack of time is not the reason you don’t get things done. Lack of clarity and a definition about what a project really is and who the next-action steps are, are the real culprits. Which starts me thinking about what I haven’t accomplished this year.

When I enumerate and think why, I’m reminded of a former staff member who frequently commented that she always felt “stuck on start.” She knew broadly where she wanted to end up, but she couldn’t figure out what that first action step should be. I thought about my big unattained goal, and realized that I, too, have been stuck on start and not very clear about how to get to where I want to go. Resolution number one, therefore, will be to clarify that, and figure out that first step.

I have to smile. One of the things I cherish about consulting is that I have that luxury of stepping back, viewing the big picture and then figuring out how my client needs to address the problem. That is, I clarify for them what the steps should be. But when it comes to myself, I’m too often either overwhelmed by the magnitude of what I think I want to accomplish overall, or I’m too deep in the trenches to think about where I’m going.

Resolution two, therefore, is to apply resolution one to all the things I want to get done.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at

Sunday, December 7, 2008

What Keeps You Too Busy to Fundraise?

Recently, I was preparing a workshop called (cleverly) Never Too Busy To Fundraise. It was geared for small shops and the original intent was to focus on those tried and true best practices that, if applied, almost guarantees some fundraising success. But that “if applied,” kept grabbing at me.

I realized that, for most of us, it’s not so much that we don’t know what to do, or even how to do it (though more of us suffer from the latter than the former). The real problem is that we are, literally, too busy to fundraise. There are too many things on our plate, too many competing priorities.

In my last two jobs I was always frustrated by the myriad meetings I had to attend. In one of these jobs, after I blocked out all my “required” meetings, I had about 35 minutes a week unscheduled. While my job description had 40% of my time dedicated to fundraising, in reality, I only had about .02% of the week available to focus on raising funds. Worse, whenever a meeting was cancelled and I miraculously found myself with an hour or so to spare, I found myself going into panic mode. What should I do? So many things to accomplish. Too little time. And before I knew it, 45 minutes were gone, and I hadn’t gotten anything done.

As I thought about these jobs, and the upcoming workshop, I realized that there were two things that were vital to a successful fundraising program.

The first is a commitment by you, your board, your boss to the fact that fundraising is an significant part of your job. Note that something written in your job description does not equal a commitment. A commitment means that time for fund development is carved out and some of your responsibilities may have to be delegated elsewhere.

The second is a plan to incorporate fundraising into all those other elements and to fit in the time you’re dedicating to this function.

At my workshop, I asked the students to write down the things that kept them from fundraising, how important those things were to the success of their job, and what they might be able to do about those things. If you are consistently too busy to fundraise, try this exercise. And be honest. You don’t have to show this list to anyone. In fact, several of the people who took that particular workshop later confessed that if they were truthful, the biggest impediment to fundraising was their fear. Sometimes one person told me, she actually booked staff meetings in order to avoid making a phone call or writing an email to a prospective donor.

There’s no shame in that. Just understand what your barriers are, and then look at ways to overcome them.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at

Friday, November 28, 2008

Capacity and Need

”How big a gift can we ask for?” The volunteer looked at me and I wanted to say, “As much as we dare.” But that really wasn’t what he was asking and, as so often is the case, the answer was far more complex than my flippant would-be retort showed.

Judging capacity is not something that can be done by simple formulae in a white room. How much someone can give and how much that person will give are not always easily related. Ability to give, desire to give to your organization and yes, how the ask is made and for how much all play huge roles.

As always, large organizations with resources often have a better shot at getting it right. But they don’t necessarily have a better shot at getting the gift. Beyond research, more than data, sometimes just asking the prospect, “What kind of a gift do you see yourself making” will get you closer to capacity than anything.

And then there is always the issue of your organization’s needs at this time.

As I write, many organizations are facing serious shortfalls. Unless you are an ostrich, you know the economy is beyond bad. Organizations’ traditional fundraising methods are falling short. New techniques aren’t quite taking off. What to do?

If you are facing a shortfall, your immediate needs are short-term. Quick gifts that will help to bridge the gap. If you are lucky enough to have a pool of donors, you may want to look at your likely large donors and ask them for a not-so-large gift. What you want here is a quick yes and an equally quick check.

When I first got into fundraising, my boss told me that if a prospect reached into his or her pocket(book) and wrote out a check for the amount asked, I probably asked for too little. In recent years, that so-called wisdom has changed somewhat and now the idea is if that happens add “A year, for N years,” to your ask. It plays well in the telling, but not always in the asking. A bird in the hand and all that may be where you are now. In today’s market, take the gift and say thank you. And then use that gift as the starting point for the next gift.

In addition to your need is the very real need of the donor. With the economy in such a tailspin your donor may be leery of committing too much. And, just as you are wondering about the donor’s capacity, she may be wondering as well. Keeping the ask to a do-able gift now may not get a listing in the Chronicle’s fundraising pages, but it very well might beef up your bottom line.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at

Friday, November 14, 2008

Keeping Us in Our Place

Not all that long ago, I found myself going from the security of a steady and fairly substantial paycheck to the vagaries of my own consulting business. Since I had no clue how long it would take—if ever—for me to make a reasonable living from this venture, I really pared down my life. As the end of the year loomed and those end of the year appeals starting coming in, one of the things I took a long, hard look at was my annual giving to a number of organizations.

There were several places I had been supporting for a number of years. My donations were not high. They ranged from $50 to $250 annually. In all cases, while I still believed in the work the organization was doing, I frankly didn’t feel much a part of that work. A few sent newsletters, but by and large, the only time I heard from them—and consequently thought about them—was when they were asking me for money.

I made an executive decision, and simply did not respond to any of the organizations’ appeals. Most the organizations took absolutely no action. I next heard from them in the normal course of events—when they sent out their next appeal. One organization sent a follow up letter reminding me that I hadn’t sent in my annual donation. It was as personal as the appeal, which is to say that beyond having my name and address on it, there was no difference from a “Dear Donor” letter. Not one organization made a personal call or sent a personal letter trying to find out why I—a long time supporter—had stopped supporting them.

Perhaps these are all organizations with thousands of supporters and losing one or two or three hundred donors doesn’t matter to them. Or perhaps they just don’t get that loyal donors are also likely larger donors, if only you would approach them in a different way.

There’s lots of research pointing to the fact that donors come to resent organizations who only contact them when they are being asked for a donation. Certainly that feeling of resentment factored into my decision to not send a year end check.

Had anyone at any one of the organizations called to say, “Hi, we noticed that you didn’t give this past year and we just wanted to know why. Is there anything we can do to change your mind?” I probably would have written a check. A handwritten note from someone asking the same questions would have made me at least think about my decision.

The point is that organizations seem to spend a great deal of time and money keeping donors where they are. That, in itself, is leads to ineffectual fundraising. That they do little or nothing to woo back (and note that among the synonyms for woo are persuade, encourage, entice) donors who become disaffected or simply do not respond to a very impersonal way of fundraising shows a basic lack of understanding about what fundraising is and why people support your organization in the first place.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at

Monday, October 27, 2008

Less is More

Passion is a wonderful thing. But sometimes, a person is so passionate about another person, some toy, or a cause, that they become almost monomaniacal. They talk incessantly about the object of their passion, telling everyone more than anyone really wants to know.

No one is more passionate than people involved with nonprofit organizations. That creates the proverbial good news/bad news scenario. We love our organizations so much, and are so proud of everything we’ve ever done, that we want to tell everyone about it all.

But when you are out with a prospect, you really need to be listening more than you are talking . Find out what matters to that prospect. Especially, before you start telling someone about this thing your organization does, make sure this particular something is of interest or, at the very least, not something that is bound to upset them.

When writing grants, it is really important to understand that most of the time more is definitely less. If the guidelines ask you to describe the project for which you are requesting funds, describe the project. Don’t give them the entire history of your organization from founding until today. Don’t tell them of all your successes and the many, many things you do. There is a place for that information. It’s called the introduction and it is where you introduce your organization to the funder.

Even there, though, be circumspect. You don’t need to give them the encyclopedic version. Just tell them the information that will help them to understand why your organization is a good organization for this particular project.

Before you write or say anything to a possible supporter, think about what you are writing or saying. Does it add value? Are you sure (or as sure as you can be) that is on topic—topic being that which will move your prospect closer to supporting you.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at

Sunday, October 12, 2008

When the Going Gets Tough

The economy is in the tank, donations in every sector are drying up and “Not right now,” are words we are all hearing on a daily basis. “I may as well stop fundraising,” more than one professional has told me.

Nonsense. If anything, we should all look at this situation as an opportunity to do even more fundraising.

Before you start signing the papers to have me committed, let me explain. If you thnk that fundraising is only a matter of raising money, then yes, more fundraising would be counter-productive. But if you believe, as I do, that fundraising is all about building relationships, then you now have the perfect set of circumstances to do just that.

According to research by author and Cygnus Applied Research president, Penelope Burk, one thing that really turns donors off is organizations and fundraisers who only contact them when they are asking for money.

Since asking for money at this particular moment will only get a response you really don’t want, why not contact your prospects and donors and don’t ask for money. Don’t even think about getting a gift. Do think about ways you can connect these people more closely to your organization. As a colleague of mine frequently says, be creative:

    Visit them just to thank them and tell them how their past giving has helped the organization.
    Call and ask their advice on everything from new architectural drawings to a new program to some challenge facing your organization.
    Tell them about a new initiative.
    Introduce them to someone they don’t know at your organization or on your board.
    Invite them to participate in a task force or committee.
    Take them to an event (and no, it doesn’t have to be your event) as your guest. And, easiest of all,
    Call just to introduce yourself.

Many times, when you are trying this for the first time, the lack of real cultivation comes back to haunt you. Donors don’t take your calls and they certainly don’t respond to your voicemail invitation to call you back. Understandable, if frustrating. What can you do?

The first thing is to try. Pick up that phone, make that call, leave that message. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised. But if you’re not, what then?

Try sending a handwritten note. “I was calling because I wanted to invite you to join me…” or, “we’ve never met, but I’d heard such wonderful things about you I wanted to rectify that oversight immediately.” Then tell them that you will be calling back in a week, and try again.

Not everyone, of course, will want to deepen the relationship with your organization. And yes, sometimes timing is bad. But I promise you, tough times will not last forever and at some point, people will signal their readiness to make a charitable gift. Just make sure that you have built solid relationships so that when that time comes, it is your organization who gets the gift.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Direct Mail-less

When I first started in the fundraising racket, direct mail was not just de rigueur in order to reach out to large audiences; it was probably the most effective and efficient way to raise unrestricted, annual funds. I started direct mail programs at a number of the organizations where I worked, and to this day, I am convinced that those programs were the key to ultimately building a successful major gift program. So I was as surprised as anyone to discover in the past two or three years that I no longer have a strong faith in direct mail. In fact, if an organization doesn’t already have a strong direct mail presence, I think it is a mistake for them to begin one.

The most obvious, provable reason is the high cost of mail—direct, nonprofit, or otherwise. Where we used to say that direct mail costs between fifty cents and a dollar to raise a dollar (more if it is an acquisition mailing), those numbers have gone way, way up. You’d have to do a lot better than the average 4% response rate for a good (read regular donors) list to make this a worthwhile way to raise funds.

Less provable, more anecdotal is what people do with mail nowadays. Now, I am old enough to remember when the mailman was a pretty special person, and waiting for his (or, less often, her) arrival made up much of my time when I was a freelance writer. Today, I take the mail out of the mailbox, look for the odd bill I don’t pay online, pull out the few magazines we get, and the rest gets tossed. In the past, I would at least open direct mail appeals from a professional curiosity. I no longer even do that.

From what my friends and colleagues tell me, I am not atypical. That suggests to me that unless you have a core audience who cares enough about your organization that they will open up anything that comes with your logo, you are wasting precious resources with direct mail.

So what’s an organization to do? E-solicitations? Well, it’s more cost effective, but unless you have (a) a good list and (b) a real understanding of what will make someone not just open your email but click through to donate, the cost to raise a dollar may be low but so will the amount of dollars raised.

Before we talk about solutions, however, let’s step back a bit and talk about purposes. Not the purpose why someone would support you, but the purpose of a particular fund raising technique. Yes, yes, to raise money. But there is always something else.

That something else for direct mail was to help bring an awareness of your organization to those who might not otherwise know about you. From the large pool of annual givers often came the smaller pool of major donors. More importantly, most planned gifts tended to come from annual not major donors.

These are all important and worthy purposes. Technology has increased methods of awareness building, and I would argue that your money would be better spent on a great website (knowing who your audience for that site is), interesting blogs, and, if necessary, paper newsletters (that can certainly have a reply envelop inserted).

Building a pool of donors is another story, and requires, I believe, some new definitions. We used to talk about annual, special and major gifts, generally using a dollar amount to differentiate. I would argue that today we have to focus on personal solicitations, and that the issue each organization has to resolve is what is the baseline that makes an individual visit worthwhile.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It's Not About You

Several years ago, when I was VP of Advancement at a university, one of my first official acts was to instruct our communications department to get rid of the tagline on the campus newsletter. The offending line?

It’s All About Us.

No, it’s not. It is about them: our clients and our donors. Our needs have to be their needs if we are to be successful in raising funds and getting grants to move our missions forward.

In virtually all of the grant writing and fundraising classes I teach, there is a discussion about why someone should support your particular nonprofit. In grant speak, that is the need; for individual fund raising it is the case. What I find interesting is that most of my students approach this from the point of view of the activities their organization undertakes.

Sometimes these activities are compelling. Who doesn’t want to feed the hungry, house the homeless, educate children? On the other hand, those admirable activities do nothing to show your uniqueness. There is no reason why, of all the organizations that feed, house or educate, yours is the one that deserves funding. Nor have you proven that there is urgency about what you do.

That requires a different perspective. You have to remember who it is about, and no, it still isn’t about us.

First and foremost, there are your clients. These are the people (or causes—like the environment, animals, peace) for whom (which) you exist. You must always make your case or state your need with an eye to what is currently happening to them, and then explain what you envision a more perfect situation to be. How will your clients benefit? What will change in their lives? How will the world, your clients’ world, be better?

Secondly, but of equal if different importance, are the people and organizations who support you or who you hope will support you. By all means, tell them about your clients and about their needs/problems. But then, as you are discussing their gift or grant you have to shift your vision a bit and focus on what these potential supporters want.

This is the essence of donor center fund raising. After you clear away all the fluff, it is looking at what we do as if we were the donor. Most donors don’t care about the logistics of how we accomplish our work. They simply want assurances that the work gets done. They want to hear about your successes, and learn about what you learned from your failures.

They want to be talked with, not to or at. And they want to feel that they are of importance and interest to you beyond their pocketbooks.

Call a donor when you want absolutely nothing except, perhaps, to share a great story about one of your clients. Or ask the donor what he or she thinks about something you are considering doing. Tell them what their support—and their interest—has meant to your organization and the people or causes it serves.

Try this. Call a donor or a prospect and ask them what they want from your organization and for your clients. And then work with them to figure out how you can make their hope and dream come true.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Focused Fundraising

When I first got into this business, major fundraising campaigns were few and far between. Now, of course, they are ubiquitous, with the Campaign for This, morphing into the Campaign for That, and immediately running into the buildup for the Campaign for the Other Thing.

The reason for this, of course, is because campaigns are successful. There are two main reasons for their success.

First off, everyone gears up for a campaign. Resources are poured into development programs, proving yet again that it costs money to raise money. Staff and leadership buy-in, count heavily into why organizations can raise more money than ever during a campaign.

Even more important, however, is the fact that campaigns are focused.

I’ve worked with and at too many organizations where priorities are not clearly identified. That results in what I have elegantly begun to call “Pig in a Poke” fundraising. In effect, you are told to go out and raise whatever you can.

This takes the concept of donor centered fundraising to extremes. Instead of the organization developing needs based on forwarding the mission, the donor gets to make contributions based on whatever floats their particular boat.

The danger, of course, is that their boat may be tied up to a very different marina than the one your organization belongs to. While you need funding to enhance programs that help your clients or constituents, the funding you get may fund a program that is orthogonal or off to the side of what is important and necessary for your mission.

Donors are not, however, the villains here. They are generally genuinely trying to help you to do good. In a vacuum, all sorts of things rush in. If you don’t define what you need, you will get what the donor wants.

As someone who has been on the front lines of fundraising, the big monster that I see in unfocused fundraising is the difficulty it presents in approaching prospects. A generic “this is what we do” conversation goes just so far. Even when a prospect is jazzed, even if the prospect is a current or recent donor, at some point you need to turn the conversation to a gift. “Whatever floats your boat,” is not a good solicitation tactic.

Nor is it a good idea to be vague about the amount you are asking a prospect to give. There are all kinds of studies out there that point to the fact that you will do better if you ask for a specific amount than if you simply ask for a gift. You might not get what you ask for, but the odds of getting something are far greater.

Focus and specificity are two of the underrated strengths in a fundraiser’s toolkit. The more a prospect can understand how his or her gift will make a difference, and the clearer they are about how much of a gift it will take to make this difference happen, the easier it is to turn that prospect into a donor.

If you make sure that you report back to that donor on the success of their gift, and talk to them from time to time without asking for anything, the more likely it will be that this donor will become a repeat donor, probably at a higher level of giving.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at

Thursday, July 10, 2008

MegaMillion Dollar Donors

I read the Chronicle of Philanthropy and get depressed. A gift of $20 million here, a $10 million gift there, three at $5 million over nearby. Rarely during my career have I worked at organizations that commanded such largesse.

To be honest, there have been times when getting a $500 check seemed like a major victory. No wonder I often felt like Sisyphus, pushing that crummy rock uphill only to have it crash on my head. It was all too easy to give up.

I have no resources, no support, and I’m spending all my time diddling with these really small gifts..

So much easier to focus on less frustrating things: Friend-raising, administrative chores,, meetings of one sort of another. What can I say except: RESIST THAT TEMPTATION!!!!!

Your job, or at least some part of it, is to raise funds for your organization. And unless you are working at an organization whose operating budget is in the mid to high 9 figures, forget about mega million dollar gifts. It is not very likely that you will get a gift that is larger than your operating budget.

Focus, instead, on what is a reasonable major gift for your organization. Which segues nicely into the question of what, exactly, is a major gift?

When I first started in development, the institution where I worked defined a major gift as one that was not less than $25,000 and paid out over not more than 5 years. I always wondered what that made a gift of $5,000-$24,000 paid out in one year. Chopped Liver?

All right. I know there needs to be markers, a line which, when you cross it, changes the landscape. But rather than numbers or percentages, I’ve always been fond of Tony Poderis’ definition of a major gift: Any gift currently making a significant and positive impact on our organization, or any gift with the potential to do so, is truly a Major Gift.

In short, a gift is major because there is a commitment that says your mission is a priority and helping to move it forward is important. It is a commitment that needs to be on both sides. The donor’s commitment shows itself via financial support. Your commitment is in ensuring the donor gets something for his or her gift.

This something is not the perks or presents often given to major donors, though those can be very good things to provide. Nor is it only the additional attention these donors receive from staff and volunteers (and, depending on your organization, your clients), though this attention is crucial if you are to develop repeat major donors.

It is a heightened relationship, a partnership really, that ensures your major is involved (as well as invested) in what you do. It means more than simply thanking your donor to making sure that they know how their gift made a difference and why that matters. Beyond telling, you need to show them. Above all, you need to turn these major donors into insiders who have more than a passing interest in what you do.

Next time, we’ll talk about how you do that.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Sky is Falling

Gloom and doom. The sky is falling. Budgets are bad. We need to cut back. It’s time to do even more with even less.

Sound familiar? If you work in the nonprofit or educational sector, it should. It seems like every few years we go through this cycle—and every few years, we react in the same way.

I’m fond of quoting Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity where he pointed out that if you keep doing things in the same way it is simply not rational to expect that you will get a different outcome. And yet that is exactly what we do.

The prevailing logic says, we have no money, therefore, we have to downsize our Development Department. More insidiously (and, alas, more commonly), Boards or Presidents proclaim that things are even worse than before, so we still can’t afford to hire a Development officer

In other words, we have no money so we certainly can’t hire the very person or persons who will change that dynamic. The variation on this theme is that we will hire a development person—but we’ll save money by hiring someone with not enough experience or skills to get out there and raise money quickly.

The fact that in ongoing, sustainable fund development programs, you can expect to raise $5 for every $1 spent, seems to be something that only Development professionals understand. And no one in charge is listening to us.

To some degree, we—development professionals—are to blame. Too many fundraisers don’t. Raise money, that is. They (and note the arms length here, which I’m sure you share) are too busy going out to lunches, having “meetings,” complaining about the database, to be productively cultivating, soliciting and stewarding donors.

Many of us, of course, do do ours job. And we do them well. We bring needed money into our organizations and help move our missions forward. But we also let Board members, EDs, Presidents, Deans…whoever we report to, take all the credit. And that is how it should be—publically. Privately, however, we have to make a very different case.

What percentage of those gifts would have come in if the Board member had only invited his friend to the event? If the CEO only went that that lunch? If you didn’t make the appointment and the arrangements, followed up with the prospect, wrote those thank you notes, pulled together all the information the prospect wanted and continued to connect the prospect to your organization more and more and more until he/she/it (as in corporation or foundation) turned into a donor. And knowing that your best donor is an existing one, who is keeping that donor involved?

Beyond documenting the dollars raised and the costs to raise those dollars, we must be persistent (and professional) in showing how much we do and why it pays to invest in development. We are the best defense in keeping the sky from falling.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Fundability 101

When I was 8 or 9, I would often watch old Mickey Rooney movies (and if you are asking Mickey WHO, you know just how old those movies are). In them, a group of kids would face a problem where they needed some money. “I know,” Mickey would inevitably say, “let’s put on a show.” And in quick order, a very professional production would premiere and all problems solved.

A lot of people who work in the nonprofit or educational sectors seem to think that they are Mickey Rooney. Instead of putting on a show, however, the think that the answer is to have an event or—better still-- write a grant.

As someone who makes a regular portion of her income by teaching grant writing, I often find myself in the strange position of convincing people that a grant may not be the best solution. Sometimes this is because grants require fair amount of managing, and not all organizations have the wherewithal to do that. They simply are not (yet) grant ready. More often, however, it is because what is being sought simply is not grant fundable.

Just because you think you need something, it doesn’t follow that anybody will want to provide the funding so you can get it. “They (the ubiquitous—presumably some foundation, corporation or the government) should fund this,” the logic seems to go, “ because I need it.”

Even assuming there were to be some truth to this logic (there isn’t), the first question that comes to mind is do you truly need this or do you simply want it? The second, closely related question is does the grant maker care?

I know. I know you care. This is something that matters to you. But does it matter to your clients or constituents or your students? Will it make a difference to their lives? Funders, you see, want to have a sense that whatever they are funding is important and the best way to make someone think that something is important is to convince them that their support (funding/investment, however you want to to describe it) will make a difference. One really important way to make a difference is to change something from what is to what it should be.

If what you want won’t change anything for the better for the people you are supposed to be serving (and no, that’s not you, your office, your boss or your secretary), then you do not have a fundable project.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Words Count

Fundraising, as we all know, is the right person asking the right prospect for the right amount of support for the right project at the right time. It’s also asking for that support in the right way.

What that way is depends, in part, on who you are asking. A direct mail piece will make the case differently than a grant proposal, even when you are requesting support for the same project. Likewise, a 30-year-old technology billionaire prospect should be approached one way, while his 60-something boomer dad will require a different method.

Sometimes, though, the issue isn’t who but what, and here words really are all.

"Hey, I need you to fund my salary,” just doesn’t resonate nearly as well as “Support for our organization helps us to provide food and shelter for the homeless.”

That the unrestricted support your organization raises may actually go to pay your salary doesn’t negate this. The homeless—or whoever your clients may be—cannot, in fact, be served unless there is appropriate staff and resources.

Making your case also means positioning yourself in such a way that people will want to support you. That means showing off successes and minimizing those things that don’t shed light on your better side. Or, as the keychain a former employee gave me states, “No Kvetching.”

The importance of this really struck me about a week ago. I received a direct mail appeal from an organization where I have been a small annual donor for several years. I had become a donor because I liked what they were trying to accomplish. So I opened the envelope, expecting to read about their accomplishments, find out about new initiatives, generally feel good because I was a supporter.

Instead, what I found out was that a large grant they had been getting for many years was being discontinued. “We need you to make up this loss,” the letter said, then went on to tell me that they couldn’t survive without this support.

Did that case make me reach for my checkbook? Not at all. In fact, my first thought was, “Ummm, wonder what that funder knows that I don’t?” The second was to seriously consider following that funders lead and pull my support.

Why? First off, it made me feel that they weren’t handling their business very well. And making sure that you have enough funds to run your programs is a major part of a nonprofits business.

Secondly, I don’t like feeling like a loser—and I don’t like supporting losing organizations. I want to put my money where I think it will make a difference and not just keep an organization from closing its doors.

Telling me about their successes this past year, and showing me that I was making a difference, would have kept me as a donor. The fact that I’ve been a regular, albeit small, donor for some time should have also triggered some special attention. A phone call, personal note from the executive director or president of the board, asking me to increase my support and help make a bigger difference, would have had the right kind of impact.

Actions may speak louder than words, but never lose sight of the fact that words do count, and make sure you use them wisely.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at

Monday, May 5, 2008

Indirectly Costly

It’s that time of the year (well, one of two) when nonprofits are busily engaged in their annual or semi-annual “fundraiser.” It won’t surprise those who know me to read that using special event and fundraiser in the same sentence is an oxymoron or that I believe that the two are anything but synonyms. It’s not that I’m against special events…exactly. I just don’t think they are cost effective ways to raise money.

Events, to my way of thinking, are wonderful for bringing people to your organization’s table, to thank donors, to gain recognition. And if you are going to have a special event, I think it makes sense to try to earn some money from it. But I think that organizations are fooling themselves if they think that an event is a great, or even a good, way to raise significant amounts of money.

“But we do well,” I am constantly being told by organizational leadership. “Our events bring in…..” and then some amount, generally a sizeable percent of the operating budget, is mentioned.

“Net or gross,” I always ask, though I know the answer will always be “net” even if the person with whom I am speaking doesn’t have a clue. So my next question is: “That’s net of your direct costs, right? What about your indirects?” And generally I get a blank stare.

Which is why so many otherwise intelligent people really believe that special events are a good way to raise funds.

Direct costs are those that are directly and only connected to your project, which in this case, is your event. It’s what you pay for invitation design and printing, the flowers on the table, room rent, the meal, the honorarium for your emcee. If you’ve hired a consultant to work only on this event, whatever you pay that consultant is a direct cost. And typically, nonprofits add all these expenses up, subtract that total from the total of what was brought in and voila, you have your net profit.

But as we all know, the devil is in the detail, and the detail that most nonprofits ignore is the indirect costs of their “fundraiser.” Just as you would assume, these are costs that cannot be laid solely at the feet of this event. So, the salary of your executive director, who does so much more than this one event, isn’t counted. Not even the percent of time she spends on the event. Likewise for every other staff member in your organization. But the truth is, these are real costs of your event and to your organization. And if you want a real accounting of your special event, you must include these expenses.

Salaries (and benefits, by the way) aren’t the only indirect costs you are incurring. Do you use the office phones, copier, printers? Don’t think , “Oh, we are already paying for these things so they don’t count.” Couldn’t you be using all these for other purposes?

Which brings us to another, very real and generally uncounted cost of all special events—opportunity costs. In economics, this refers to the cost (or the benefit) of what you might have chosen to do instead of what you did chose. Figuring out that cost is extremely difficult. Perhaps you could realize more dollars by focusing on major gifts, but perhaps, also, you will have lost some very real benefits of bringing new people to your table.

The point is not so much to make an exact accounting, but to be aware of your options and to consider them from all sides. Just because you’ve been doing an event doesn’t mean you must always do one. Or that you must always do it in the same way.

The point is to know what your real costs are, and to make decisions that pay for your organization.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Failing the Grade

A survey of 1,001 Americans commissioned by New York University’s Organization Performance Initiative should give all of us in the nonprofit sector pause. While a majority of Americans had a “great deal” or “fair amount” of confidence in charitable organizations, only 25% believe that charities do a “very good” job of helping people. The percentage of people who believe that charities waste a “great deal” or fair amount” of money is a staggering 70%, with only 10% of the mind that we are very good” at spending wisely.

Popular wisdom likes to point the blame at others…particularly the very public meltdowns of some very large organizations. Think Red Cross or United Way. But I think the truth is that these very visible scandals simply make the case or “prove” what so many Americans feel. And what they feel is that most nonprofits simply are not doing a very good job at doing good.

It’s not that we are bad or venal people. But too often, we are trying to do our jobs with too little resources and, in many areas, too little knowledge of what needs to be done. Our leaders and our board members don’t understand nonprofit law, what makes a gift, how nonprofit accounting works. Worse, there is little understanding of what our responsibilities to our donors should be.

I frequently speak at service clubs on how to make wise charitable choices. I always ask how many of them have ever made a gift to a nonprofit and never received a thank you letter or tax receipt. I don’t care who I am talking to, or where the club is, at least twenty-five percent of the audience raises their hand. One quarter of every random group I speak with does not believe that they have been properly thanked for a gift.

The number of people who raise their hands when I ask how many have NEVER been told how their donations were spent is even larger. Generally, one-half to two-thirds of the audience feels that the nonprofits by and large ignore them once a gift has been secured.

Less quantifiably, but equally disturbing are the knowing looks and little laughs that I get when I talk about nonprofits who never remind donors of their pledge payments. When we do that, we not only write off the pledges themselves, but we too frequently also write off the donors who made those pledges in the first place.

If we simply thanked, and then thanked again, every single donor for his or her gift, and made an effort to personally let them know how their gift benefitted the organization, I believe that perceptions would begin to change. And as those perceptions change, more people would be willing to reach into their pockets and support the organizations for which we work.

Janet Levine is a nonprofit consultant and trainer. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Board Biz

Much of my professional life has been working with Boards, helping them to define and be successful in their roles. Almost unanimously, the role of fundraising is the one that causes most concern.

”If I ask my friends and colleagues for support,” I am told over and over again, “then I know that the next step is they will ask me to support their organization.” It’s a fair, and probably true, statement.

These musical dollars really don’t benefit anyone, and they cause more than a few Board members to practice fundraising avoidance tactics at all costs.

This, in turn, causes staff to grumble. “The Board isn’t doing its job,” is a typical refrain. “They are not raising any money.”

But, should they?

I think that a better, more realistic, job for Board members is to create an environment where fundraising can occur. What I really want my Board members to do is to introduce me to people they believe have the ability and the interest in supporting my organization.

Mind you, I don’t want just any introduction. I want my Board member to set the stage so that we can turn his or her contact into a viable prospect (and eventually, donor) for my organization.

Set the stage how? Get me in front of the prospect with my Board member. At that meeting, I want my Board member to talk about his or her commitment to my organization and tell the contact how gratifying and important that commitment has been.

What happens at the meeting will, of course, vary, depending on a host of things. What really matters is that I-- and by extension, my organization--will now have a connection with this prospect. My ultimate goal, of course, is to turn the prospect into a donor, but I want a committed, in-love-with my organization and a frequent donor, not just a single gift.

Beyond introductions, I want my Board members to thank our donors for their generosity. A personal, handwritten note or a phone call to those they know and those we want to know better from a Board member can be extremely meaningful, both to the recipient and the writer. Personal invitations to events can get otherwise hard to meet people close to the organization.

Speaking of events, I expect my Board members to attend events…and to be working the room, not just sitting or standing there.

In other words, I want my Board members to think more about development than fundraising as a prime responsibility. I want them to develop, grow, widen and expand the number of people closely involved with our organization. And I want my Board members to create a culture of philanthropy among those who they are helping to connect with our organization.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at

Saturday, March 1, 2008

What to Say? Part 3

Meetings. You have meetings. Lots and lots….but still, you are not raising lots and lots of money. Why is that?

It’s such a duh question with an equally obvious answer, but since (a) it is at the heart of our failures and (b) I am the Queen of Obvious, here goes:

Either you are meeting with the wrong people and/or you aren’t actually asking them for a gift. For many of us, that is the rub. How do you get from talking about the family, their home, the latest vacation, the program or your organization to what fundraisers love to call (with a bugle blare) “The Ask.”

Clearly, just jumping in and demanding that they “Gimme Money,” to paraphrase that greatest of all rock n’ roll bands, isn’t a cool move. But ask you must, and you must NOT be too subtle about it.

Lest this concern you, here’s a news flash: In over 90% of the cases, the person sitting across from you knows the purpose of your meeting—and they accepted anyway. So subtlety is not needed.

Indeed, on occasion, as you are telling the about your project, the prospect will ask, “What can I do?”

If this has ever happened to you, did you blow it? Be honest now. I know I have. Instead of giving a straight forward, “We need your financial support” answer, too often we beat about the bush and speak vaguely about involvement or “helping us” in some undefined way.

If you are at the point of qualifying someone or meeting to ascertain the level at which you can expect support, you might consider whipping out a gift table—either one that shows levels of gift clubs with the benefits attached to each level, or the kind you put together that shows how many gifts at the various levels you need to reach a certain goal. Then ask, “Where do you see yourself on this chart?”

There’s an old saw in development that says if a prospect whips out his or her checkbook and writes a check for the amount you requested, you’ve left money on the table. Perhaps. I’ve always believed that it gave you the starting point for the next ask. Nevertheless, there is good reason to find out what the prospect is easily willing to entertain as a possible gift.

This, at least, tells you the lowest level you should request. When you finally get to the actual gift ask, it should be somewhat higher than this first indication.

Sometimes, though, you are not ready to ask for the gift. Ask for introductions to their friends or colleagues. Ask if they would be willing to host a reception at their home (and then make sure you follow up and havethe reception). Ask them to come and talk with your students, or clients. Invite them to a special event. Ask if you can send them some additional information.

At this point, you are asking for things that will bring them closer to the organization and, more importantly, you are getting them in the habit of saying “yes” to you.

Umm….maybe I should try this technique on my husband.

Monday, February 18, 2008

what to Say? Part 2

The restaurant is lovely. The food, delicious. Conversation has been lively and you now know all about her trials with the decorator. But whenever you begin talking about your organization, things seems to go south. She listens politely, appears interested, but asks no questions and offers no clues as to what about your organization could be a hot button. You are left not knowing what would make her open up her purse.

You go back to the office, feeling less than excited and your call report (you do write those, right?) is vague. You have no plan, no strategy for the next move, don’t really know what the next step should be.

If this at all sounds familiar, know that you are not alone.

A question I like to ask myself is “Why am I doing this?” It helps to focus me and makes me think about what outcomes I desire from a particular action or activity. What I want to get from something informs what I need to do at the front end.

With fundraising, there are a finite number of reasons—and an infinite number of variations on those reasons—as to why you made that appointment.

In many cases, you’re there because Joe suggested you meet with Judy, or because this person (or that corporation or foundation) is on your suspect list. Maybe you know they have money, or they’ve given to a like organization. You want to qualify them. That is, you want to find out if they have an interest and capacity to become a major donor for your organization.

Perhaps this meeting is because you want to move someone along the cultivation process to the next step on the journey to solicitation.

You might be ready for that solicitation and this is the meeting where you will be asking for the gift.

Perhaps the gift has just been made. You are being a good steward and this meeting is to thank them for their recent generosity. Of course, you are also starting the process for the next gift.

Maybe you happened to run into Stan and he agreed to see you. Or you made this appointment because you could and because your boss has been bugging you get out of the office and do a little of what they are paying you to do—raise some funds.

Let me suggest that if you do not have a clear reason, an outcome that you are expecting, perhaps you are just wasting your time. Fundraising needs to be purposeful. There must be a focus and a goal.

The best fundraiser I ever knew once told me that you should ask the prospect for something at every meeting. Your purpose for that meeting will dictate what you ask for, but it should always be something that connects the person to your organization. And your questions should always be adding information to your donor profile. The more you know about your prospect, the better you can match needs.

What kinds of things should you be asking for? We’ll discuss that next time.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Get ready

The NonProfit Times - The Leading Business Publication For Nonprofit Management:
"How would you feel if you discovered that 500 of your donors had created a group on a social networking Web site like Facebook to publicly discuss their experiences donating to your organization?"

Thanks for the reminder

Nonprofit Communications - Blog Archive - How to Get Reporters Interested in You: Cut the Bull:
"Nonprofits need to cut the bull! Blathering on about your wonky mission statement, the infinitely deep root causes of a problem, and the complicated system-wide solutions required just doesn’t work for print reporters who need to think in terms of hundreds of words, not thousands, and TV journalists who can give you only 30 seconds of airtime."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

California Cultural Data Project Launches

I recently attended a training session for the new California Cultural Data Project, an important new collaboration between major funders including the Getty Foundation and the James Irvine Foundation. Nonprofits applying for arts and cultural grants from these organizations must now submit their application using an online database that collects and systematizes financial data. The hope is that the project will streamline the funding application process and aggregate information on the sector.

The Cultural Data Project was launched in 2004 in Pennsylvania, where nonprofits and charitable organizations found great value in collaborating and systematizing data collection. More funders will be joining this year, and the project may expand to other California sectors if successful. Visit for more details.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

What To Say?

It was one of those questions that crystallized it all. “What,” asked one of the workshop participants, ” do I say when I am finally sitting in front of someone?“

Then she blushed and added, “That’s probably a really stupid question.”

Well….no, that actually is the question and it’s one that I think has stalled many a fundraiser or volunteer. We know we have to get to the ask, but how to get there? Do you just saunter up to the prospect and say, “So how much are you going to give?” If only.

We can probably all talk about our organizations. Tell the person sitting next to or across from us why what we do matters. Most likely you can even describe what your organization does—that is, what are its programs, and how it actually pushes its mission forward. But getting from there to the point where you are thanking the prospect for becoming a donor is a real sticking point.

Over the next few entries, I’ll be talking about the various aspects of what we all coyly call “The Ask.” Really, though, it’s many asks and the issues surrounding them are multi-faceted.

The first issue is you. How comfortable—or uncomfortable— are you with the idea of asking someone for money? You level of ease will create the environment and set the stage. The more awkward or hesitant you are about asking for money, the harder it is to get to that point. As a fundraiser, you feel no qualms about requesting support. Nor should you feel that what you are doing is somehow akin to begging.

I’ve worked with people who like to joke that their organizations are “equal opportunity beggars.” The first time I heard that I thought, “Cute.” The second time, I felt uncomfortable. Maybe I just don’t have a sense of humor, but I strongly believe that fundraising is most definitely not begging. In fact, it is almost the polar opposite.

So here is Rule #1 for successful fundraising: You must honestly believe that you are providing the prospect an opportunity to be a part of your organization and the work that you do. If you don’t believe that, you just may be in the wrong business. At the very least, you are at the wrong organization.

Rule #2 is to put yourself in your prospect’s place. Do the things that you are being told sound exciting? Are they things that you believe are important? Transformational? Necessary? Do you want to be a part of what this organization is doing? And if not, why on earth would you expect that anyone else would?

If you can provide an opportunity and think about it from the prospect’s vantage point, the right words at the right time will come.

Next time, we talk about those words and how you get to say them.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Board Works

Pop Quiz time. You’ve just started at a new organization. There hasn’t been any ongoing fundraising for quite some and the Board leadership wants you to get out there and start raising funds. What’s the very first thing you should do?

If you answered: Start with your Board, give yourself a solid B. To get the extra points that will move your grade to an A, you’d need to be a bit more specific.
What, then, specifically, should you do? First, make sure that every (and that means all of them—no exceptions) have made their annual give. Call those who haven’t and for that gift now.

What? There isn’t an annual giving requirement? Get your Board leadership together and then them that an annual, unrestricted gift requirement for every member of the board must be instituted immediately. The only acceptable negotiation is ho much. And do not let them sell you short.

Yes, of course you will lose some Board members. That’s good news. You can now replace them with people who will be happy to write that check.

Done? Great. You now have a grade of B+. The A comes when you ask each of your generous Board members to introduce you to someone they know who could support your organization at that annual level or higher.

Let’s be clear on a few things. First, “Introduce you,” does NOT mean that they give you a name and tell you contact the person saying, “Joe (or whatever your Board member’s name actually is) told me to call you.” Introduce means that Joe (or whoever) sets up an appointment for the three of you where you are formally and physically introduced to the prospect.

Secondly, and I know this is going to sound counterintuitive, you don’t want Joe to call on his friend and simply for a gift. You very well might get a check, but then you have the beginning of a beautiful relationship. A relationship that you may be able to bring to a higher level.

Great. You have earned your A grade. But don’t stop there. Get the gift from Joe’s friend. Then earn extra credit by asking the friend, who is now your friend, what friends of his he can introduce you to.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at

Pardon the ALL CAPS Notebook - The Only Measurement That Matters Is Money:
"The only MEASUREMENT that really matters is MONEY (INCOME) raised to FUND THE VISION and SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASE YOUR IMPACT. Many of you want to argue/debate this with me. (You may be bringing a knife to a gun fight.) Yes, it's about relationships. But, it's about MAXIMIZING the RELATIONSHIP... AT THIS GIVEN MOMENT.

I'm becoming more mellow with age, but the word/concept of 'cultivation' still makes me gag. Even things like 'stewardship' and 'donor relations' don't work as part of your model or strategy IF there is no GIFT... no INVESTMENT... no MONEY/INCOME!!!"

Thursday, January 24, 2008

New report on online fundraising

Internet Evolution - Editor's Blog - The Web's Impact on Philanthropy:
"'Tools of the Internet help you reach out to, not just those who are already giving, but those who currently feel disenfranchised and may not be inclined to give yet,' says Alexander Blass, founder and CEO of RealityCharity."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Good to know

Fundraising for Nonprofits: What is the average fundraising cost per dollar raised?:
"Greenfield states the U.S. national average cost to raise a dollar is 20 cents, which he breaks down into the following:

1. Capital Campaign/Major Gifts: $0.05 to $0.10 per dollar raised.
2. Corporations and Foundations (Grant Writing): $0.20 per dollar raised.
3. Direct Mail Renewal: $0.20 per dollar raised.
4. Planned Giving: $0.25 per dollar raised (and a lot of patience!)
5. Benefit/Special Events: $0.50 of gross proceeds.
6. Direct Mail Acquisition: $1.00 to $1.25 per dollar raised.
7. National Average: $ 0.20"

Sunday, January 20, 2008

If You Build It….

There I was, the chief development officer and the chief cook and bottle washer among my other duties, with no time and no resources to do development. It wasn’t the first time I was there, and so before I started I committed to making three prospect calls a week. That turned out to be unrealistic.

It wasn’t so much that I couldn’t find the time to have three more meetings. Somehow there is always time for another meeting. What I didn’t have enough time for was the calls to get three appointments a week. I figured that it would take a minimum of 60 (and more like 100) phone calls on average to get those 3 appointments. Even assuming that in 80% of those calls I got to speak only to the answering machine, that was the equivalent of one full day a week

What was do-able, however, was to block out at least a half hour a day (or two and a half hours a week) to make phone calls. Because we hadn’t done any real fundraising for years, I didn’t exactly have a wonderful prospect list—but I sure had a lot of suspects!

So I segmented by what I could—age and zip code. Where I didn’t have a phone number, I sent a letter—with a request to call me and a reply envelope. I didn’t get a lot of responses. Interestingly, though, I got more checks in the reply envelope than calls. That was okay. The checks generally gave me phone number and now my calls were much easier.

“Hi,” I would say. “This is Janet. I’m calling to thank you for your gift.”

That worked so well—over 85% of those folks were willing to meet, and most of them ended up giving larger gifts—that I figured I needed to get more reasons to make thank you calls.

A full-on direct mail campaign was beyond my budget, but with the help of IT and my PR department, we sent out large-sized post cards, with the aim of driving them to the website to register. They could, of course, make a gift, but I really didn’t care about that. Registration gave me up-to-date phone numbers, people who had self-identified as being interested in us, and a reason to call.

“Hi. This is Janet. Thank you for registering.”

Pretty soon (well, okay, it took 18 months), I could make 3 fundraising calls a week, which improved our fundraising bottom line immeasurably. Better still, the board decided that if I could accomplish that much by myself, think what could occur if they hired a dedicated development officer.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting course is available at

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Interesting, bad news

The NonProfit Times - The Leading Business Publication For Nonprofit Management:
"The ongoing survey asked the same 8,000 families about their charitable gifts made in 2000, 2002 and 2004. While the total percentage of households that gave was similar in all three years (67 to 69 percent), it was not always the same households. The study found that a fairly large proportion of all U.S. households -- nearly one third -- shift between donating and not donating."

Contribute - The People And Ideas Of Giving:
"Levis’ survey shows that most nonprofits post an average gain of just 10 percent each year: they lose 52 percent of their donations, which is then offset by a 62 percent gain in new or upgraded donations. In short, says Levis,nonprofits are losing almost as much as they’re gaining, pouring a river of money into a nearly open drain."

Monday, January 14, 2008

Keeping Your Eye on the Ball

You’re small, under-resourced. You’ve got too much to do, and too few hands with which to do it. Stress has become a way of life, relaxation a stranger. And if one more board member, or your CEO, shows you what Harvard or Stanford, or some national organization that has a gazillion dollars to spend on administration has just brought in, you are going to scream.

Trying to manage a small advancement office is like trying to keep your house clean when you have toddlers and two very large and hairy dogs. Most days, nothing goes as planned and, after a while, it is tempting not to bother to plan at all. At my last job, I planned to meet with at least 3 prospects a week. That didn’t seem like so many. Surely I could fit that into my calendar.

I could have. If I had had three prospects to call on. But I didn’t. So I figured that what I really needed was a database. Oh, we had one. But it was a mess, and it was old technology and very expensive to maintain. Besides, no one in the office really knew how to manage it.

So I began looking for a database that better suited our needs. Along the way, I realized that our gift acceptance and receipting policies were virtually non-existent. They needed to be updated. And oh, I had to go to cabinet meetings, board meetings, staff meetings, meetings with city and state officials and, it seemed, every other meeting held at my organization.

Are you seeing a pattern here? Are you shaking your head because you see the quagmire I’m falling into, or are you shaking your head because you are right there with me?

It is so easy to lose sight of what should be if not the than a primary purpose of your job: Raising funds for your organization. So how do you keep your eye on the ball and ensure that fundraising doesn’t constantly get pushed to the back burner?

Short of quitting, which is sometimes the only option, what can you do?

First and foremost, manage expectations—yours and everyone else’s. Assess your situation, honestly. Given your time, your resources, your prospect pool, what is reasonable to demand of yourself (and, should you be so lucky, the rest of your staff!). Then build some manageable metrics.

Next time, we’ll talk about these metrics in detail. Meanwhile, tell us how you keep your eye on the ball.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grant writing class is available here


Is Direct Mail Dead? -
"'The economics of direct mail are failing,' writes Mark Rovner, a fund-raising consultant on the blog Sea Change Strategies. 'That is more or less an uncontroverted fact It costs more to mail, and fewer new donors come back with each mailing. This trend has been masked somewhat by higher average gifts by donors you already have, but sooner or later, the acquisition crisis is going to affect bottom lines. For some, it already has.'"

Interesting new scam targeted at nonprofits

Sunbelt Blog: Beware Barbara Moratek of the Ivete Foundation:
"There is a new scam going around where small non-profit organizations are being targeted by a 'Barbara Moratek' of the 'Ivete Foundation'."

Shut up and listen

Donor Power Blog: Is your fundraising a long, dull conversation?:
"Talk to the donor about the donor. The only things you say about yourself are the things that show how you fit into their world."

And get a cattle prod

Teaching Board Members to Raise Money -
"To get board members to raise more money, the author says development officials and executives need to show them how it’s done — and set reasonable goals."

As with anything, it depends.

Idealware: Should Your Nonprofit Use Social Networking Sites?

Are Social Networks for You?

So should you invest in creating a profile or networks on social networking sites? It depends on your organization. To succeed with social networking sites, you'll likely need a staff member or consultant who has a passion for working with these types of sites. You'll also need to establish goals to understand if the time commitment is worthwhile. For instance, if you're trying to expand your community, how many new people linked with your cause would make your time worthwhile? Be open to alternative goals, too: Perhaps your primary purpose with social networks is just to get your name in front of the younger members of your audience.

More than most technologies, success in social networks depends on your sense of adventure. There are a lot of opportunities, but many of them are not thoroughly explored or tested. You might achieve great success — or it could all end up being a great big waste of time. Think through the challenges and opportunities carefully, and then decide whether social networking is right for you.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Keeping an eye on the B List

by Janet Levine

I’m in the midst of writing an on-line fundraising course, and find myself having a lot of "oh yeah" moments. These--as opposed to "aha" moments, where you have an epiphany that hadn’t struck you before--are those moments when you remember what you should be doing. In this case, things I used to do, successfully, before my jobs became so mired in other administrative duties and/or where the volume of what had to be done was matched only by the lack of resources with which to do them. Sound like your job?

One of those oh yeahs was the keeping of me and my organization on the radar of my second-tier major donor prospects. The ones I wasn’t quite yet working with. If I was in the middle of a solicitation cycle, of course I kept in touch. But if I had thought, "ummm, Josie is someone I should keep on eye on," I too often didn’t keep Josie’s eye on me. Meaning, of course, that I didn’t just call to chat on a regular basis, or ask Josie to meet for coffee or come onsite to see something interesting. By neglecting this, I was always having to start it all from scratch.

Related to--and possibly the cause of--this was not populating my B list regularly. I got too busy to pull aside one of the thank you letters I was signing each week to find out more about that particular donor and if he or she should be identified as a potential prospect for a larger gift. Didn’t always follow up with that person I met who was an alum of my institution or who mentioned that she "loved" the work done at my organization. I had gotten, frankly, too busy to plant the seeds that would turn into a strong, sustainable fundraising program.

Inevitably, I found myself bemoaning the fact that all the low-hanging fruit was gone and my good intentions to make a certain number of fundraising calls per week were impossible, because all I had was a database (for good, bad or indifferent—a subject for another time) list of names, who had serious cultivation needs before they could be considered a major donor prospect.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grant writing class is available here

Could be good news

The New York Times discovers a problem with project-specific grant-making that any nonprofit knows well:
"...when foundations switched to project-based accounting, they forced grantees to sacrifice long-term effectiveness for short-term efficiency, Ms. Enright said. Nonprofits could no longer afford to focus on important strategic activities like advocacy or working for social change, which require “deep resources and the ability to change tactics overnight if the situation demands it,” she said.

In addition, critics say, project-based funding allows grantees to collect only a fraction of their real overhead costs. According to “In Search of Impact,” a 2006 study of foundation grant-making practices from the Center for Effective Philanthropy, foundation chief executives will allow a nonprofit to add only 10 to 30 percent of direct project costs for overhead. Some refuse to provide any operational costs at all.

The financial strain knocks many promising nonprofits out of business."