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.