Thursday, August 27, 2009

Working Social Networking

Recently, I took a road trip with my 34-year-old daughter. I was amazed—though I shouldn’t have been—at how many hours she spent in social networking. During the day she texted non-stop, or would have if I hadn’t taken her phone away when she was driving. And at night, in our hotel room, she chatted with her friends on Facebook.

First she would type madly for a few minutes, then sit back and wait. When the tone that indicated someone responded sounded, she would lean forward, read for a moment, then type madly again. I was reminded of Billy Crystal’s line about dancing—that it was just like standing still, only faster. This was like a conversation, only slower.

I’ve been thinking a lot about social networking as I get ready to teach a workshop on how social networking can augment a nonprofit’s existing fundraising programs. The power of social networking is clear; it is the time consumption that concerns me.

I remember when word processing became ubiquitous. We all thought that it would make our offices more efficient. At first, of course, it didn’t, but there was the learning curve and it was sure to come. Then, one day I asked my secretary to prepare a memo for me to send to my boss. In the old, typewriter days, it would have taken less than an hour before a clean, typed copy was on my desk.

Two days passed.

“Claire,” I finally said. “That memo?”

”Oh yes,” she answered brightly. “I should have that done this afternoon.”

”Is there a problem?”

Well, no. There wasn’t. And yet, yes, there definitely was. She was “formatting” the memo—playing with fonts and sizes and styles. She could bold,, italicize, underline, and a whole host of other things that she had been unable to do before. It was awesome. But here’s the dirty truth—it wasn’t better, it didn’t add value, my memo wasn’t more effective.

I don’t want to sound like a neo-Luddite. I’m not. I love my computers—and yes, that’s a plural, I have two. I love the things I can do that I couldn’t do when I started working. I love the possibilities that technology brings. My husband swears I love my iPhone almost as much as I love him. But I don’t love inefficiencies and I abhor spending work time unproductively.

A recent study surmised that for a nonprofit to effectively use social networking for development purposes it would take 20 hours a week. Now, that’s just the managing of the technology. It will take additional time to develop the strategies, create the content, and evaluate the successes of your social networking programs. If you are a small nonprofit where you are already too busy to fundraise or do anything else, you will really have to think long and hard about jumping on this particular bandwagon.

I don’t think that nonprofits can afford to ignore technological advances. I do think that social networking must be part of their advancement program. But these are techniques and channels that must be used judiciously and with planning aforethought.

You will not raise tons of money solely by putting a “Donate Here” button on your website. Developing a Facebook page will not bring wealthy donors ripe for solicitations. Your Tweets may get you a Twitter following, but if you are not clear about the purposes for which you are using these tools, you will build nothing worthwhile.

These are tools that, used well, can help you to reach more people. Used well, they will allow you to build relationships that might otherwise not be possible. And fundraising is, above all, about relationships.

But there is a price to be paid. The wise nonprofit understands that and makes sure that before starting out on this journey, they have carefully mapped out what seems to be the best route, and have an understanding of what side roads could be interesting to explore.

Janet Levine is a consultant who works with nonprofits and educational organizations. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Whose Rolodex?

Many years ago, when I was applying for my second fundraising job, I was asked a question I thought very…well, questionable. “What donors can you bring with you?” the chair of the search committee asked me.

To be honest, I was quite nonplussed. I had only been in the field 3 or 4 years, but it seemed to me that donors were not the same as say the clients of a hair stylist who would bring his or her customer book to any new location. Donors, I thought then and now, don’t “belong” to the development staff. Rather, they have been cultivated and solicited because they had been identified as someone who would want to be involved with an organization’s mission.

As a fundraiser, I may have coordinated and facilitated their gift, but it was a gift to the organization or institution for which I worked. It was not a gift given because they personally liked me.

So, baffled as I was, I simply sputtered, “None.” And didn’t get the job.

While it was the first time I was asked the question, it was far from the last. And each time, I tried to explain that I considered my job to cultivate donors for the organization and if I had done my job right, when I left, the donor would have relationships with others who worked and volunteered at the organization and so would remain a committed supporter.

Further, I would tell my interviewer, just as I won’t be bringing donors with me, I won’t take donors from you when I leave.

Since I was offered a number of these jobs, and was able to continually move up the proverbial food chain, it was clear that many people understood and possibly agreed with my position. And yet, I can’t help but think that there often was a disappointment that I didn’t bring with me a fat rolodex of people who would write a check within weeks of my arrival.

I, however, always want to be more than merely a money machine to any organization I work with. I want to create or strengthen a foundation where there is sustainability. I think our job as fundraisers is, as I said a few paragraphs ago, to mainly be a coordinator and facilitator—both to help donors make satisfying and effective gifts, and also to assist volunteers and other staff members to be part of the process.

This is not to say that I have never offered a donor I knew from one organization the opportunity to support another if I thought there was a reason to believe that donor would be interested. After all, as every good fundraiser knows, the best indicator that someone will become a donor to your organization is that he or she is a donor to another organization.

Still, I think it shows a complete lack of understanding of why development is important to an organization to expect a fundraiser to bring donors along with her. Yes, yes of course, fundraising is about bringing in money. But it is mostly about building relationships that will help to nourish and grow an organization.

If you believe that, then it is clear that the right question to ask a potential fundraiser is not who do you bring with you but rather, how do you go about finding and caring for those to whom our mission matters? And what steps would you take to ensure that this person (or organization) is well connected to our organization and feels part of the work we do?

Fundraisers who can answer those questions are worth their weight in gold. And, trust me on this, over the long haul, they will bring in far more gold than someone who brings his gravy train along for the ride.

Janet Levine is a consultant who works with nonprofits and educational organizations. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Right and Left Hands

I read a lot of fiction. One thing that strikes me is how often the characters go off in strange and unlovely directions simply because they fail to communicate with each other, or at least, fail to communicate fully.

Of course, I’m struck by the same thing in real life, but who pays attention to reality anymore (unless it is televised)? Certainly not those who think that there really is a fund raising magic bullet.

But, surprise!, I’m not going to rant here about the lack of understanding of certain board members and CEO’s who are sure that everyone is just dying to give them some money if only somebody (else) would ask. I am going to rant about communication gaps.

Nothing, and I do mean nothing, is more irritating than finding out that you are the right hand who doesn’t know a thing about what the left hand has just done. I wish I had a dollar for every time a program officer informed me that someone in my organization just submitted a proposal for $5,000 so they could not consider the one for $50,000 we had been discussing until the next funding cycle. I wouldn’t be rich, but I could buy a pretty fancy dinner. And let’s not even mention the Board that decides that instead of the one-on-one major donor solicitations they had agreed to, they’ll throw another “fundraiser” event instead. So what if that will net very little?

Complaining, however, is one thing. Communicating so that complaining is less necessary is another. You’d think that in a world so full of noise, communication wouldn’t be such a hard thing to do. But it is.

The first step is to make sure that you are not part of the problem. You are only allowed to complain about how they don’t tell you what you need to know if you are telling them what they need to know.

Speaking of reality as we were a few paragraphs back, recognize that not everyone communicates and the best response to that is to communicate with that person.

My husband, who is an engineer and we all know how well they mix with communicating, used to have a bad habit of not telling me if he was going to be late or if he was bringing someone home for dinner. I, a sales type with motor mouth who informed him of everything I might possibly do that day, decided that two could play the no communication game.

Instead of making things better, it made them worse because now neither of us had a clue what was happening. It was so bad that my dogs too often did not get their evening walk as because the one who was home was waiting for the one who wouldn’t be home until 10 but hadn’t bothered to inform the other. And instead of learning from my lack of information, he decided that it was now completely OK to forgo telling me anything. That notion, I might tell you, took a lot of work to undo.

With fundraising, communication is even more important. Fundraising is much like a dance, and if both partners don’t know the steps, you are liable to stomp on each other’s toes. Practically speaking, that means that your organization needs to have a plan of action and that action must be communicated to everyone. Everyone.

Communication can be even more basic. Recently, I was conducting a workshop to help board members make the case for giving. The first step, I told them, is to define the situation, the problem or the need.

”Everybody knows the situation,” the ED snapped. “We don’t need to belabor that to everyone.”

Beyond setting my teeth on edge, that attitude is exactly the one that (a) too many nonprofits have and (b) is guaranteed to keep donors away from you. YOU may know what you do, how you do it, and what all those acronyms nonprofit and educational organizations are so fond of, but I guarantee that most of your prospects, many of your donors and even a large percentage of your board, don’t. If they do, it’s not necessarily on the top of their thoughts and they will (silently) thank you for being communicative with them.

Besides, you won’t necessarily be saying “Homelessness means that someone doesn’t have a home.” Rather, you will talk about why homelessness in your community matters to your community and by extension to your prospect.

Communication in the dictionary of Janet is defined as the fine art of including people into your world so they will want to be involved. Or, as so eloquently puts it:

Two way process of reaching mutual understanding, in which participants no only exchange information but also create and share meaning.

Think about it. Give and take. Sharing. Creation. Aren’t these all things that good nonprofits practice? And aren’t they all the things that move your good mission forward?

So, talk to me and to each other. Make sure that the right hand does know what the left is doing and vice versa. But also, perhaps especially, listen. Hear what the other is saying. You will be astonished at how much more you can do—how much better you will do it—if you communicate.

Janet Levine is a consultant who works with nonprofits and educational organizations. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at

Thursday, August 6, 2009


For years I’ve tried to no avail to learn another language. It isn’t so much that I can’t master the grammar or learn the vocabulary (though none of that comes easily to me) but rather because I wouldn’t use what I knew. I wouldn’t speak the language because I couldn’t speak it well.

That was dumb. And I knew—know—it was (is) dumb. And yet I could not make myself speak it because everyone would know I wasn’t perfect.

Perfection. Sigh. When I was a little girl I thought perfectionists were people who did things perfectly and I wanted desperately to do be perfect at something. I haven’t completely outgrown that desperation—or the desire to do things without error. But I have learned that perfection is a pain—and it can also be a barrier to doing anything at all. Hence my mono-linguism, and perhaps, your organization’s inability to actually fundraise.

Over the years, I’ve heard boards and staff tell me that they can’t possibly fundraise yet because:

• We don’t have an elevator speech.
• Our database is messed up.
• We don’t actually have a database.
• No one knows who we are.
• Our website is embarrassing.
• We don’t have any brochures.
• Name your favorite non-fundraising excuse.

In short, things aren’t perfect so we can’t possibly move forward and ask anyone to help us move our mission forward. And speaking of mission, have you noticed that no one ever says, “We can’t ask anyone for money because we aren’t doing good work”?

It seems to me, that if your mission is good and you aredoing good work, you are perfectly situated to raise funds. Yes, you do need to let people know about you—but you really don’t need fancy brochures. Databases are built over time and by themselves, don’t actually fundraise for you. And an “elevator speech” is nothing more than a statement of your passion about your organization.

Good fundraising does rely on a strong database and great communications. But—to coin a cliché—every journey starts with a single step. Begin by identifying five people who you have reason to believe would support your organization. Find out if anyone on your board knows any of those five—and what size gift they think is reasonable as a first gift.

If you can convince your (fellow) board members to set up meetings with these five, you will probably get three to five meetings. If you can’t, count on one. And each time someone is willing to join with you in supporting your organization, add that person to your database. More importantly, ask that person who else you could call on and, by the way, would they be willing to introduce you? Next, add another 5 potential prospects to your list.

Slowly, surely, you will develop that elevator speech. The more you tell others about your organization, the more you will understand what catches their attention and fans their flames of passion.

Your database will get filled with premier prospects and more and more people will know who you are. If you actually start fundraising, you will start to raise funds. And I ask you, what could be more perfect?

Janet Levine is a consultant who works with nonprofits and educational organizations. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at