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