If it matters, if they care….

Before I was a fundraiser, I held many different sales jobs, including one as a life and ice-climbing-reaching-the-top
health insurance agent.

Shortly after I started at my agency, I went to the star agent and asked, “What do I need to do to get from where I am to where you are?”

Easy, he said.  Think about who your best audience is, then begin approaching members of that audience and learn from them what is important and why they would consider insurance, then show them how you can help them reach their goals.  Once they’ve said yes, continually prove to them that their business matters to you and that they can count on you to keep them informed about things that will impact their goals, dreams, desires.

Sounds lot like fundraising.

And, like fundraising, his best advice was that I learn from my potential clients what they cared about, wanted, needed.

Yes, of course I had to learn all about my products and be able to show the benefits to my client.  But—and this is what no one else at my agency and too few in fundraising recognized—the benefits were only the benefits IF my prospective client cared about that particular thing.

So what if, upon his or her death, insurance would pay a very large amount to his or her estate, if what my client actually wanted was a life income?  And big deal if her heirs would receive a tremendous tax break, if the only tax break that matters was hers?

Likewise, what difference does it make to someone who doesn’t care about say children or education if what your organization does is to ensure great education to those children?  Your fabulous mission is only fabulous to those who care.

Your job and the job of your board members, therefore, is not to learn a great pitch or to i love youproduce wonderful collateral materials that will tell the world how fantastic you are.  It is, rather, to find out what your prospects and donors care about. And then, to work with them to help craft a gift that will benefit you and your clients while meeting your donor’s needs.

For large, major gifts, you do that by building a relationship via face to face meetings and conversations where your main job is listening. But even in large shops, you don’t have the time or the people to meet one on one with smaller donors.

Social media can be a great boon here.  The strength of social media is in listening (monitoring) what your audience is saying about you.  Make sure that what you post doesn’t just make a statement but, rather, invites a conversation.

If you send out e-newsletters, don’t just monitor how many people opened the document but see what articles get the most traffic—and what gets the least.  Over time there will be a pattern that will help to define what matters to your audience.

For print magazines or newsletters consider an envelope NOT to ask for a gift, but to ask them to return a short survey that will help measure what articles, ideas, programs matter to them.  Offer a prize for those who respond.

Open houses, special events, the telephone all offer ways for you to reach out to large swathes of your prospects and donors and actually listen to what they say is important to them.
Because if it doesn’t matter, then they won’t care, and then they definitely won’t give.


Janet Levine works to help nonprofits go from mired to inspired. Learn how atwww.janetlevineconsulting.com. While there, sign up for the newsletter. 
And consider how you can translate your passion for your organization into a Compelling Conversation(s for Fundraisers)—available at Amazon

Posted in fundraising | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Turn Your Donors into Fans

Typically, I don’t think much about the companies/stores/ vendors with whom I do business.  Unless they really antagonize me.  Or are especially wonderful to work with.

Waterfield Designs is one such company.logo

Free Conference Call  is another.unknown

SFBags I just love because of their breezy emails, the personal handwritten notes they put into their packages, and the great products they have.  Free Conference Call because they are amazing when something goes wrong.  Like the other day.

I discovered that my dial-in number (at least the one I had written down) didn’t work.  I went on the website and there was a form to fill out.  Groan, I thought.  This will go nowhere.  But to my delight, I got a response within the hour with a truly helpful solution.

My mother taught me to be polite, so I thanked the person who helped me, and in response I got a real live response that didn’t seem canned and appeared interested in ensuring that I had a good experience with Free Conference Call.

It is that sense that you sometimes get that there person helping you really is offering help and that their main desire is to help you have a good experience that turns occasional customers into fans.  And fans are what nonprofits need.

The difference between a fan and a donor is that the fan doesn’t just support you, they tell others about the splendidness of your organization.  They cheer for your successes and support you through those temporary failures.  They care about what you do.

To create fans, you have to care about them.   So yes, say thank you, but say it as if you actually mean it.  It’s not just the handwritten note that counts, it’s what is said in that note.  It doesn’t have to be brilliant or poetic, but it does have to be real.

For a lot of retail businesses, having customers instead of fans is fine.  If I need milk or other foodstuffs, I’ll probably go to the nearest market, even if I’m not a fan.  But if I am going to donate my hard-earned money or my precious time, I have to care passionately.

And while unrequited love might be the thing of one’s adolescent years, when you grow up what you want is love that is reciprocated; values that are shared; purposes that are matched.



Janet Levine works to help nonprofits go from mired to inspired.  Learn how at www.janetlevineconsulting.com.  While there, sign up for the newsletter. 

fundraisers-coverAnd consider how you can translate your passion for your organization into a Comp
ellingConversation (for Fundraisers)—available at Amazon


Posted in fundraising | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Be A Successful Fundraiser

Fundraising, I believe, is as much of a science as an art.  Success comes with intentionalitysuccess, process, attention to detail, follow up.  Yes, being personable helps—at least when you are trying to create relationships with prospects and donors.  But, truthfully, a great personality will not get a great gift; a carefully crafted and followed plan will. Not as sexy, perhaps, but far more successful.  And nothing is sexier than success.

But what, really, is success?  It’s reaching certain measurements and if you don’t know what those are, you cannot know if you are, indeed, a winner.  And that’s where metrics come in.

Fundraisers are often measured by the amount of money that comes in—and that certainly can be an important measurement.  But if that is all that is being measured, it could push one to chasing dollars.  And that can lead to getting lesser gifts and grants.  It can also lead to exhaustion—yours and your donors!  Instead, consider the things you must do in order to raise great gifts.

  1. Say thank you. They are on your radar for a reason.  Perhaps they’ve given before; or attended an event or performance.  And o.k.:  Not all reasons are equal.  Maybe you just met them somewhere, got their business card and put them on your database.  Or they made a great gift somewhere—just not to you—and so…..Still, thank them for all they’ve done for your organization or for the nonprofit sector as a whole.  After all, they’ve probably supported someone, sometime.
  2. Get to know them. And sure, you cannot always get out and meet with everyone. But you can learn about them before you ask them for another thing.  Find out what matters to them—particularly what matters to them philanthropically.  What is the best gift they’ve ever made?  What about the best thank you?  Why do they give what they give?
  3. Make sure you have the right person making the ask or getting the prospect ready for an ask. This is true whether you are up close and personal or doing things via email, snail mail, or text.
  4. While you are considering the right person, consider the other things you’ve got to get right: the project, the amount, and the timing.

All this doesn’t happen by serendipity. It does happen by being intentional, knowing what you are trying to accomplish and then measuring the success you have.


Janet Levine helps nonprofits go from mired to inspired. Learn more at www.janetlevineconsulting.com  

 Her new book, Compelling Conversations for Fundraisers can help you to have more fundraising success.  Buy it at Amazonfundraisers-cover


Posted in fundraising | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Too Involved Board


OK, you’re probably thinking that is an oxymoron.  How can your board be too involved? Many of you would do an awful lot just to get your board involved at all.  But, as my sister always tells me, beware what you wish for.  An involved board can become too-involved, and a too-involved board can create chaos.

It might be that your board member(s) are used to micromanaging their staff, their kids, and now, you.    Or they are “doers” and think that by doing all this stuff, they are helping.  Mainly, however, it is because they do not understand board roles and responsibilities.

Frequently, they confuse regular volunteer jobs with things that they, as a board member, should be doing.  And while it can be great to have a board member also volunteer to do non-board member things, they have to understand the differences in roles.

Board members lead the organization.  They define strategic directions, provide high-level oversight, and ensure the financial integrity of the organization.

Volunteers are a lot like unpaid staff.  They do the tasks that the organization needs to get done.

Visually, this looks like this:

When it is a board function, the board is in charge, at the helm, the leaders of the organization.  When it is a volunteer activity, a staff member is in charge, and the volunteer does as the staff requests.  When these two roles get conflated, too-often the board member takes charge and while that may sound wonderful, the reality rarely is.

For example, right now I am working with a client on their end-of-the-year appeal package.  In August (when I was hired), I created a timeline, showing each step and the date by which each step would be done.  The copy for the letter(s—we have segmented out 5 groups), the reply device, follow up postcards, e-blasts, social media postings are all written.  But the pulling together of the lists and getting the letters printed, collated, and ready for mailing, which should happen by the end of this week, has been put on hold.  The board members (almost all of them) want to edit the letter before it goes out.

Do I have to tell you what a bad idea this is?  Beyond the obvious issue of group-write, which is inevitably disastrous, there is the little issue of time.  I pointed this out at the board meeting where this issue raised its ugly head.

“The board,” said the President, “is responsible for fundraising.”

Well…….not so much when it comes to arm’s length techniques.  That is the staff’s role.  The board should be identifying potential major donors, helping to cultivate them, asking them for gifts (or getting the staff in front of these prospects so they can make the asks), and then ensuring that the donors feel really good about the gift they made.

They should not be holding up a critical part of the annual fund.

But, just as I can’t simply blame board members for not doing their jobs, I can’t fault them for trying to do too much.  What is needed is clarity—for both the CEO and the board members—about their roles and responsibilities.  In the case above, the Board simply did what the ED asked.  She brought the package forward and asked if they wanted to do this.  If she wanted to ask that question (and honestly, it’s not a question I would recommend), then she should have done that in June, before anything was written and planned.  And if the board says no, then the CEO has to ask the next question:  How, then, are we to raise money?

The problem with that question starts with the reality that most board members will give a knee-jerk answer:  Let’s have an event.  It continues with the fact that almost assuredly, none of them are fundraising experts.  And it ends—as alas, too many nonprofit stories do—with the organization strapped for money and unable to move its very important mission forward.

Janet Levine helps to move nonprofits from mired to inspired and helps them to raise more money to accomplish their important mission. Learn more at www.janetlevineconsulting.com. While there, sign up for the newsletter and contact fundraisers-coverJanet to schedule your free 30 minute consultation.  And while  you are at it, learn to become fluent in fundraising.  Compelling Conversations for Fundraisers is now available at Amazon.  

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

Engaging Suspects

A reader asked if I have “new strategies to take lists of people I have that I know are interested in our type of nonprofit but I don’t have a referral or a direct connection….But I do have a really good reason to believe they are worth reaching out to, warming up and then asking (giving them an opportunity to get into my funnel)”

“New” I’m not so sure about, but yes, I think there are ways to reach out to these not quite prospects (those you have reason to believe have Linkage-Interest–Ability, and to whom you have Access) but more than suspects (those missing one or more of those three).

You can, of course, simply cold call—and I addressed that in this post   But as I discovered when I sold insurance, cold calling tends to follow the 100-1 rule.  That is, for every 100 people you ask, one may be interested in talking to you.  Worse, making 100 calls doesn’t guarantee 1 interested person—it may take you 500 calls and then you may get 5 potential whatevers.

There has to be a better way—and I think there is.

As with all things fundraising, start by considering commonalities. Find out as much as you can about that person, especially his or her philanthropic interests. I once discovered (by reading the playbill at a concert) that someone I wanted to connect with was a big supporter of the Master Chorale that I loved.  That had nothing to do with my organization, but I sent him a letter the next day, thanking him for supporting something that gave me so much pleasure, and asked if we could chat so I could tell him about another organization that might please him.  He responded favorably and over a number of years, became a nice sized donor to us.

Believing strongly that people give when they are connected, I look hard for ways that will create that connection.  I’ve asked those I wanted to get involved to speak to a group of students or clients or other donors on subjects in which I knew they had expertise.  Where possible, I asked them to become a judge, or help us award scholarships. Or be part of a focus group on a topic I thought would be of interest to them or where they actually could bring something important to the table.  Inviting these suspects to something—be my guest at an event or come for a tour—is nice, but getting them to do something is so much better.

And when they do, I make sure I have a clear follow-up program, which, I shouldn’t have to say but will, is NOT asking them to support our organization.  There are many more steps that need to be taken.

The fundraising process starts with identifying those you think could be prospects and learning as much as you can about them.  Then you must get them interested and involved in your organization.  Too often we think that all we have to do is send them our newsletter, tell them how wonderful we are and presto! They will become donors.

Sadly, that is not generally true.  Instead of sending them a newsletter, you might consider asking them to write an article for your newsletter.  Instead of telling them about you let them shine.  And show them how they make a difference.  Once they see that, they will want to give not just of their time and their talent but also of their treasure.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping move them from mired to inspired.  Let her help your organization increase your fundraising capacity and get your board more engaged with the work you do.  Learn more at www.janetlevineconsulting.com  And while there, sign up for the newsletter.


Posted in fundraising, prospecting | Tagged , , | 3 Comments