Raising Money

As election results sink in and so many are asking what now, one answer is to support those nonprofits that work in the areas likely to be most affected:  health care, immigration, gay rights, racism, sexism, real news, and so on.  But the list is long and one cannot support every worthy group.  As too often happens, inertia sets in.

I don’t know what to do, so I do nothing.

Then, I get an email asking me to support the work of this or that organization.  A good untitledorganization.  One I’ve considered supporting, but somehow haven’t.  This isn’t the first ask from the organization—it may not even be the second or fifth.  But this time, I click on the Donate button and become a supporter.

They get my support because I do believe in their cause; and—mainly—they made it very easy for me to do what I wanted to do.

That last is really important.  Too often we (and especially our board members) caution against asking too often.  A one-time ask, however, often ends up at the edge of the desk, the bottom of the email list.  All good intentions aside, too often that means that the prospect never becomes a donor and the donor never re-ups their gift.

It’s no secret that the single largest reason for not making a charitable gift is that no one asked.  But a very close second is the fact that no one asked often enough.

Beyond asking, of course, an organization has to give you reason to support them. An ask should not just be a request with your palm up, it should also be a handshake showing the prospective donor what their gift will do. How well an organization does this often depends on their size.

It is hard for small nonprofits to raise money.  They don’t have the visibility, the prospect pools, the staff or board to go out and ask people to support the work they do.  Too often, because of that, giving to a small organization is hard work.

Large organizations, on the other hand, are often in the news, highlighted in the lists of organizations to support, have the resources—cash and staff—to reach out in a variety of way, and have board members with long tentacles that they are willing to use. And so, each year, they raise more money, become stronger and more likely to increase their fundraising results.

The rest of us, the more than 80% who have operating budgets of under $1,000,000—and especially the almost 70% of all public charities whose budgets are under $500,000—struggle to stay open and impact their communities in measurable ways.  And yet, they do.

If you work at a small organization, know that making it easier for your donors to give will, in turn, make it easier for you to make a difference for your cause and/or your clients.

Making it easier for them, no doubt, will at the start make it harder for you.  Saying you are too busy to do anything different will not allow for the change that more than ever is needed.

When you feel like despairing, about the world, the problems your clients and your organization face, don’t fall into the trap of letting inertia take over.  Think how you can make it easier for those who know about you to make a gift; and what you can do to make more people know about you.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping to move them from mired to inspired.  She can help you make supporting your organization easier for donors and to increase your fundraising results.  Go to www.janetlevineconsulting.com to learn more or email Janet at Janet@JanetLevineConsulting.com.

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Don’t Be An Ostrich

Last week was hard.  I barely slept on Tuesday and woke up Wednesday morning sad, concerned, unnerved.  But I had work to do and so, like most of us, I determined to just get head-in-sandon with it.

I’m lucky, however, my work is with some of the most amazing people.  Wednesday was a board retreat with an organization that does life affirming things with adults with disabilities.  The board and staff are people who care passionately about inclusion.  They look to share their good fortune with those with less to level that proverbial playing ground.  Their goal is to provide opportunities, create community, build up rather than tear down.

As I said, I’m lucky.  People who work in and volunteer for nonprofit charitable organizations tend to be outward looking.  They—we, I like to think—look at success not in terms of dollars and cents but in opportunities, fulfillment, support.

Over the past week, I’ve been talking with friends, colleagues, acquaintances, strangers (it is the result of a lifetime of sales and fundraising!) about how we lessen the divide, curb the anger, be able to talk rationally with each other.  I admit, it’s easier with those who think as I do, but then, as my husband keeps reminding me, one lives in an echo chamber and doesn’t grow.

What’s been troubling this election cycle is the acceptance of the Big Lie(s).  Say something—even something demonstrably untrue—and people (some people) will believe it.  False “news” stories exacerbate this.

As a fundraiser, I’m used to putting a pretty spin on things.  But it has always mattered to me and the organizations for which I worked that we kept things honest, we were transparent, and we didn’t let that spin go out of control.  So yes, we use hyperbole, but we never, ever lie about the facts.

As fundraisers, we learn to listen to what our donors and potential donors are saying and to hear their concerns.  We respond to concerns and objections with empathy, education,  and try to work together to find a solution that meets all of our needs.

As leaders, we ensure that we keep to our mission and that our mission stays relevant.  And when, as sometimes happens, we stray or circumstances change the need for our work, we respond positively and look for ways to get back on track or move to another, more applicable one.

More than ever, our sector is necessary.  We need to make sure that we use all our skills to keep the world from becoming any uglier, scarier, less embracing.  We need to stop pointing fingers and start holding hands.  And if all this sounds a bit Pollyana-ish, perhaps we all need to be a little more positive not just in our outlook but in our actions.

This doesn’t mean that you get to put your head in the sand, pretending that bad is good.  More than ever, we need to be vigilant, to stick to our principles, act in ethical ways. It means loudly pointing our wrong and sticking up for right.   It means that we need to keep doing our work and ensuring that we continue making a positive difference.



Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping to move them from mired to inspired.  These days, we all need inspiration.  Learn more at www.janetlevineconsulting.com and while there, sign up for the newsletter.  And get fundraising inspiration to have Compelling Conversations, available at Amazon.

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Reaching the (Fundraising) Top

I am a counter.  That’s how I know that there are 276 stairs up to the Baldwin Hills Scenic imagesoverlook.   Or maybe it is 278.  For not only am I a counter, but I am a careless one.  I blame the voices in my head—the ones that reiterate over and over whatever it is that I am focused on today.  Or the other, more random (and more frequent) ones that start and stop thoughts with frightening regularity.

I think I count because I want to control my environment.  If I know how many steps I have to climb, then I am in charge.  Written down in stark black and white that seems crazy.  And yet, I still count.  For example, we have now 121 words (122).

But my purpose was more than counting.  Indeed, yesterday, after I climbed the stairs and started making my way down the road, I thought this posting  out in my head.  It started with counting, then moved into…what?  I cannot remember, though I am sure it was pretty brilliant.

This is a recurring problem.  I think about things, intend to follow through with them, but don’t.  Why?

Probably because, like you, I’m hoping for a magic bullet.  The one thing that will solve IT all, whatever IT might be.

magicIf only I had a magic bullet, I wouldn’t write my best material in the shower or at the gym or while I am walking down a steep road;  I’d do it when I was sitting down, at the computer or pen in hand.  I wouldn’t think of all the perfect  words I’d use, I’d simply use them. In short, I’d be on top of it all in real time, every time.

But there is no magic bullet and I’m not on top of anything most days.

If this sounds like you—especially you and fundraising—welcome to the club.  The hardest part of being a consultant, I find, is getting my clients to focus and make time for the very thing they hired me to help them with.  Often, ironically, that is the fact that they don’t seem to have time to get out from under and get out to meet with prospects.

Over the years, I learned that there is a magic bullet (of sorts) in fundraising.  It is this: Be consistent.  Don’t start and stop; don’t do one thing once then drop it for another.

That consistency means that even though you don’t have time to do whatever it is, you do it anyway.  And somehow we always find the time.

Which is the true magic bullet.  While I hate quoting slogans, in some ways Nike had it right.  We agonize, we avoid, we plan, then we plan to plan.  What we really need to do is to sit down and do it.

If “it” seems too daunting—and it generally does—then break it down into manageable pieces.  That’s why I count.  Two hundred and seventy something steps are too many to climb.  But one—that I can do.  And then another, and another, until I—like you—reach the top.


Janet Levine helps her clients get to the top by moving them from mired to inspired.  fundraisers-coverLearn more at www.janetlevineconsulting.com.  While there, sign up for the newsletter and a 30-minute free consultation.  And if you want to get fluent in fundraising, buy Compelling Conversations for Fundraisers, available at Amazon.

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Are You Cultivating or Just Touching?

Cultivation.  The steps you take to move a prospect closer to becomingUntitled a donor.  All the things you do to build a relationship; the way you make your donors feel that they are a part of your organization and that they, and their gifts, matter.

Cultivation is made up of “touches”—the things you do that educate, involve, excite your donors about your mission and the work you do.

While every touch contributes to cultivation, it is important to understand that not every touch translates into be a cultivation step.

If you send a newsletter to your donor list, that is a touch—an important one.  But it is not, by itself, a cultivation step.

For starters, you don’t even know if the donor opened—let alone read any of the articles in—your newsletter.  And, because it is a one-way touch, you don’t have any reason to believe that the donor was moved to make a(nother) gift.

As you develop your cultivation plan, you probably will end up with a lot of touches and only a few actual cultivation steps.  Let’s consider that newsletter you send this month.

By itself, it is a touch that keeps your name in front of your donor.  That is important, but to cultivate, you need more.

More might be a call or a meeting where you actually talk about one of the articles in the newsletter or (even better when appropriate) where you ask if the donor would be willing to be spotlighted in the next issue.

More could also be asking the donor to be part of a focus group to discuss the newsletter and help you to make it better, more informative, of more interest to your community.

While cultivation is something that is usually thought about in raising major gifts, there is much to be said about cultivating your annual donors—even your smaller givers.

That way, each year as you make your ask (appeal), you don’t have to work so hard to remind them why you matter (and why they matter to you).  If you’ve been touching and cultivating them throughout the year, they will be more likely to say yes.  Your attrition rates will drop and the effectiveness of your annual giving program will go up.

For major givers, most of your cultivation steps will involve being face to face.  For smaller donors, this is impractical.  But you can still reach out more personally.

Let’s think about that newsletter.  Try sending a personal email or note, revealing the “story behind the story” about something that appeared.   “As a long-time donor,”  OR “As someone who have just become involved with us…” I thought you would interested in learning the back story about our new garden.

Create a short survey and ask smaller donors to rate the newsletter (keep the survey short—4-5 questions, max.) and then send them not just a thank you for participating (if they did) but also a report on what you learned.  Send that to everyone, even if they didn’t respond, saying, “Your thoughts still count.  Although you didn’t respond to the first survey, we hope you will let us know if you agree or disagree with the rest of our readers!  What you think matters to us.”

Each time you touch a donor (or a prospective donor), think if by itself it is enough to move that donor to action.  If not, consider what else you can do to truly cement the relationship.

Donors give because you ask, but they only give regularly to those organizations they love.  And love is best when it is reciprocal and constant.


Janet Levine works helps nonprofits move from mired to inspired.  She can help you to better cultivate your donors and increase your fundraising results.  Learn more at www.janetlevineconsulting.com.  While there, sign up for the newsletter and arrange for a free 30-minute consultation.

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Individual AND Foundation Funding Equal Success

Looking at fundraising stats from Giving USA convinces all of us that most funding for


nonprofits comes from individuals.  And yet, for grassroots organizations, that simply is not true.  For them, most funding comes from private foundations.  To the degree that they get individual gifts it is primarily from board members and via events.

Much of the reason for this is mindset.  Yes—it is the belief that an individual gift is worthless unless it is as large as a grant.  “Why,” clients always ask me, “should I spend my time cultivating donors who will give me $100 when I can focus my energies on a grant that will get me $10,000?”

And there may be much truth in that—IF the $10,000 grant is as unrestricted as the $100 gift and if the grant is as sustainable as the individual’s donation could be.

The real truth is that we will get funded mostly by the places where we put our energies.  Yes, it takes a lot of effort to get $10K worth of $100 gifts but personally, I would rather have a large pool of donors giving little than one funder giving a lot.  If that one funder decides to move on, we are, to put it mildly, f*****.  If, on the other hand, one or three of our hundreds of smaller donors chose to leave, we still have a strong base from which to grow.

Which is not to say you shouldn’t go after grants.  You should.  Certainly.  And you should also look to individuals.  And just as you should try to have a broader base of funding options, you should consider many ways to raise funds from individuals.

It is true that the closer you get to a donor—and this is as true for organizations as it is for individuals—the more likely they will be to say yes and to say yes to larger gifts.  All that really means is that the further away you get from your prospects, the more of them you must ask.  This has additional benefits.  Think marketing.  Thing public relations.

The more people know who you are and, more importantly, what it is that you accomplish, the more you find people who will care about your results.  The more they care, the more they may give.

Some of those who learn about you will be on boards of (or close to those who serve on those boards) those foundations you hope to get funding from.  A good word from a close friend does more than a wonderfully written grant.

The more participation you get from individuals (and that should include your clients—remember we are asking for them to join in at whatever level they can) the easier it is to convince funders that what you do is important.

Perhaps the most important litmus test for any funder is “who cares?” about the work that a particular nonprofit is doing.  If they are the only ones who care, they may soon wander off to find another cause, another organization that has broader support.  Showing that, indeed, your accomplishments motivate a large number of people to give what they can, will increase your grant success.

On the individual side, look to bring as many people to your cause and your organization as possible.  Mega gifts are heady, but for most of us, they are merely a pipe dream that can stomp on the reality of what you can do.

People who give to you—at any level of giving—year after year after are the most important donors you can find.  They are loyal and they understand the importance of your work.  Reach out to them and make sure they know that they are appreciated and that their support gives you a foundation from which anything can happen.

Janet Levine works with nonprofit organizations, helping to increase their fundraising fundraisers-covercapacity and build stronger, more committed boards.  Learn more at www.janetlevineconsulting.com.  While there, sign up for the free newsletter.  And join with your colleagues in having compelling conversations about fundraising–and with those who will, if approached correctly–give to your organization.  


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