Standing Still Means Moving Backward

The topic was fundraising. Specifically, how to be more effective, efficient and increase your fundraising results. We talked about changes in the sector and changes beyond the sector that affected how we raise funds.

“I guess we are just different,” said one Development Director. “All we do is one direct mail piece a year, and we bring in $342,000. So we don’t need to do anything else.”

And how, I asked, are you increasing your prospect pool?

She said that they weren’t. After all, they brought in $342,00 every year. That was what their budget called for.

If I could have raised an eyebrow—a skill I don’t possess—I would have.

What was said might have been true, if the organization was good being where it’s been and existing on less buying power for the same dollar amount.  And if—a big if—no donor leaves or makes a smaller gift.

I’m not one to say that every nonprofit has to grow. Being the size you are may be right for you. But even if that is true, the reality is that your budget must grow.

In 1970, when I married to my first husband, we believed that if we could have a combined income of $20,000 a year—in New York City—we would be in hog heaven. Imagine what that would get you today.

The point, of course, is that even if what you are doing seems to suffice, if you just want to stand still, you must do a great deal more than you are currently doing. And you must start on that road today.

Janet Levine works with your nonprofit to ensure your fundraising isn’t stagnating.  Learn how she can help you go from mired to inspired at .


Posted in business practices, fundraising capacity | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The stories we tell

There I was, standing with my two dogs on leash, minding my own business.  Of course, I should have been paying attention, but I was lost in my own world.  Into that world quite suddenly, came a skateboarder.  My dogs got spooked and I ended up bruised, cut—and with a fractured radius.  Right wrist, of course.  

The number of things I cannot do with my one, non-dominant hand is eye opening.  But so are the things I find I can do.  Best of all—am I being too naive to that there can be anything “best” about this?—is my forced slowing down.

Slowing down is allowing me to truly consider what my clients really need, and how i can best ensure they get it.  To think about what I want—and how I can get there.  And, of course to smell the roses.

Of most interest, are the reactions of people I encounter.  

Some look away.  Some (continue to) look through me.  Bike riders call out “heal quickly.”   I think they think it was a bike misadventure.  Most people ask “what happened?”

And while they are being solicitous, what they really want is to tell me their broken bone story.

Just like fundraising.

We spend so much time and effort trying to figure out our stories, we miss the point: prospects and donors are way more interested in telling us theirs.

Instead of telling them all about you, ask them what they know about the organization, what their personal experiences have been, what they would like to see happen as a result of the work we do.

We tend to value and hire fundraising staff who have good verbal communication skills when we should be favoring those who are excellent listeners.

Once people have told their story, they frequently do want to hear mine.  They offer advice, sympathy.  

For me, most of these are one-off conversations.  When I was still raising funds, these conversations helped me to craft better cultivation and stewardship plans and to help them make better gifts.

You don’t need to fracture your wrist—in fact, I wouldn’t recommend it.  What I do suggest is you open your ears, pay close attention and learn what your donors need in order to make the kind of contribution that will make both of you smile.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, taking them from mired to inspired and helping them to inspire their prospects and donors.  Sign up for the newsletter and learn more at


Posted in fundraising | Leave a comment

How a Culture of Philanthropy Can Improve Donor Retention

You know this.  Sixty percent of the donors who make a first-time gift to your organization,

My Circle of Friends

never make a second.  And every year thereafter, about 35% of your donors stop giving to you. There appears to be two typical responses to these facts:

  1. Nonprofit leaders, fundraising professionals, board members simply throw up their hands, continue doing what they’ve always done and complain about how bad things are.
  2. Massively increase the number of direct mails, emails, social media outreach saying “Give to me! Give you me!”

Neither of these will have the desired outcome of building a stronger, more loyal donor base.

Loyalty happens when donors feel—strongly—that their philanthropic needs and desires are being met. Note the word “their.”  Not yours.  Not your organization’s.  Theirs.

And you do that by making your donors feel as if they matter.

They will feel that if they believe that they are seen and heard.  That means personal interactions.

Yes, I know.  You are busy—too busy to fundraise!—and there are too many donors and prospects to individually touch.

But that is why building a culture of philanthropy at your organization is so critical.

A culture of philanthropy simply states that everyone—board, staff, clients, volunteers—understands the value of those who support you.  Fundraising—the process by which you turn individuals who might care about what you into those who not only do care but support you—is everyone’s responsibility. That means that whoever answers the phone does so professionally and courteously.  He or she doesn’t tell callers that “so and so isn’t in.  Call back later!”

A culture of philanthropy means that everyone can tell your story; not just what you do but what you accomplish.  Success stories should be widely known throughout your organization, and everyone should be encouraged to share them with the wider world.

The wider world, of course, includes your donors, and they of all people must be told how their support contributed to these successes.

Yes, I know.  You are too busy.  But you have your board, your staff, perhaps your clients, who can help reach out.

Board members can be asked to spend a few minutes at each board and committee meeting to write a short note to a donor, a lapsed donor, a not-yet donor, telling them what happens because of their support.

Staff members can be recruited to make one phone call a week to a donor just to say thank you and, by the way, here’s what your gift meant.

Clients could star in a short video (and yes, it’s fine to do this on your phone, as long as you have written permission from the client or client’s family to do so) that says “thank you for what you do!”

Making donors feel valued will pay off in very large ways.  One of those ways may be that in addition to your board, staff, clients, you may be able to recruit a few of them to be a part of your culture of philanthropy and ask them to reach out to others and say “Thank you for joining me in making a difference.”

Janet Levine helps nonprofits go from mired to inspired, through training, coaching and consulting. Find out more at  While there, sign up for the newsletter and contact Janet to find out how she can inspire your organization.


Posted in fundraising | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Fundraising Increases?

Online fundraising is up some percent over last year!  Giving Tuesday grew by another percent!  Headlines like this give me a headache.  The articles that accompany them usually make that headache worse.

These could be citing important information.  For example, if online fundraising is increasing, the wise nonprofit will make sure that their landing page—where the donor gets to when she clicks on donate now–is easy to use and encourages thoughtful giving.  But as proof that something is going on in fundraising and your fundraising focus should be about online asks, is fatuous.

Likewise, wonderful that Giving Tuesday is growing.  Maybe. But at most of the organizations I talk with, it is growing at the expense of the regular end of the year giving. It’s not augmenting, it’s replacing. Worse.  It is replacing at lower levels of giving.
Oh, wait—the gifts that are gotten are higher than what was given online last year; the gifts, however, are lower than they were from the regular appeal.

Reporting about fundraising makes me crazy because it is so often reporting on the wrong things.

Giving USA tends to look at fundraising trends as if they stand alone, not connected to and dependent on other things.   For example, it is wonderful that charitable giving in 2017 was higher than ever before. For the first time, giving exceeded $400 billion.

That’s the good news. The bad news was that in terms of what it means for the sector—well, heck, it was pretty much of a wash.  As it has been for over 45, giving to charities accounted for about 2% (2.1% this year) the gross domestic product.  We’re not growing.  Rather, we are stagnating.

As for the huge amount, that may be a good thing.  Or it may be a false cognate.

What do I mean?  Well, for the past several years, mega-gifts to mega-nonprofits have been proliferating.  For example, just this week, the Orange County Register reported a $20 Million gift from an anonymous donor to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Beyond wondering who ARE all these people who have this kind of money, there are some critical things to consider.

For starters, in the nonprofit sector we “book” the gift in the year it was pledged.  We have no idea how long the payout period; if the gift is current, deferred, a combination. It paints a pretty but not necessarily an accurate picture of the fundraising landscape.

This is at least equally true of bequests.  A few years ago, the Giving USA report showed a sharp uptick in gifts via bequests.  A trend?  Not likely.  None of the bequest donors are likely to make another gift.  And, in that particular case, there was one person who died and left a billion dollars in her trust to charity.

And I haven’t even mentioned how so much of this supposed increased in charitable giving was gifts to private foundations who only have to then give 5% of their assets to charity, leaving the rest invested and used for other business purposes, nor have we looked at how much was given to donor advised funds—funds that may or may not ever go out to support a charitable purpose.


Janet Levine Consulting works with nonprofits, taking them from mired to inspired.  Sign up for the monthly newsletter.  Hire Janet to move your nonprofit to a more profitable place.



Posted in fundraising | Tagged , | Leave a comment

How Much is Too Much?

It’s official.  I am a Millennial.  At least as far as nonprofits who send out emails are concerned. According to a study by Grey Matter Research, millennials get 27 emails a week, while people 65 and older (my natural habitat), say they only get 15.  Grey Matter also reports that a large percentage of people actually read most or all of the emails, but I confess I don’t.  In fact, it feels as if I am getting 27 a DAY, and all of them are asking me to give.

You’d think that someone like me who is in the business of helping nonprofits to increase their fundraising capacity would applaud that.  After all, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.  But arm’s length asking—and these emails are about as personal as a direct mail appeal—are notoriously ineffective and often, if they are sent often, downright irritating.

Charitable giving is something people do when they want to right a wrong, help someone who needs that help, support a cause that resonates with them.  And, they need to feel that their gift means something.  How can it mean anything if 15 minutes after I’ve given, I’m being asked to give again?

I get it.  Nonprofits need money to do the work they do. Advocacy groups, which tend to be more responsive than proactive, probably believe that the issue du jour will garner more giving than a concentrated ask.  But I wonder.  There are issues I care passionately about, but when I am asked on a weekly—and sometimes daily—basis to give $100, $200, $400 for THIS particular crisis, I feel, well, crisis-ed out.  And so I start ignoring the emails; not responding to the appeals.

Donor fatigue, I’ve always maintained, is more a function of lousy fundraising than anything else. And lousy fundraising is when an organization keeps going back to the same old same old person, institution, group of people, asking for a gift to support this, and now this, and now again, this.

I don’t doubt that the constant appeals bring in some positive responses.  But I think this mode of fundraising is as much at fault as the lack of appropriate stewardship in our sector experiences such huge number of donor attrition.  Over all, way less than 50% of donors make repeat gifts—and remember, this includes people who give regularly because their child or children are students in a private school, or a loved one is in or just got out of the hospital.  Absent those people, attrition rates would increase even more.

While it unrealistic to expect many organizations to have the human resources to meet with every single donor and find out how he or she would like to give, it’s not hard to parse out who is responding and who is not.

How often is too much? is a question my clients and those taking my workshops often ask.  And I generally respond with a rule of thumb that you should touch a donor at least 3 times between every ask.  But not if you are already sending me 27 emails a week. Adding any amount to that goes beyond irritating to truly obnoxious.

Janet Levine Consulting works with nonprofits, taking them from mired to inspired.  Learn more at  Sign up for our free newsletter and do contact Janet for a free 30-minute consultation

Posted in Ask, fundraising | Tagged , , | Leave a comment