Good Days/Bad Days

Most mornings I go to the gym.  I work out with weights, do cardio.  Some days I get lost inmy workout—it’s wonderful.  Somedays it is just hard.  Some days I don’t really want to be there.  But I am because it is important to me for my well-being.

It’s like fundraising.  Somedays it is fun to review your donor portfolio, think of new and interesting ways to connect, write a phone thank you notes or make some thank you calls.  Other days…..not so much.

What makes a good fundraiser is that even on those not so much days, she’s plugging along, doing what is needed to raise funds for the organization.

On my good work out days, I stretch myself.  I lift heavier weights, do more reps, am more intentional in what I am doing.  On the not-so-good days my workout may not be so good.  But I try.  And I find that on those days, what makes it better is to have a clear plan of what I am going to do.  While I do have an overall fitness plan, on good days I can go with the flow—what machines are available, what space is open.  But bad ones?  If I’m going to do work out that matters, I have to be clear—today I am….and work it out before I even walk onto the gym floor.

Ditto with fundraising.  The less I want to do my work, the more intentional I must be.  And I cannot be intentional unless I have clarity about what I need to accomplish, both in the long run and what I have to do now, today, to get there.

At the gym, I know that to meet my goal of staying fit, I have regularly work on upper and lower body as well as keep my core strong.  On a bad day, I think about what I did yesterday, and focus on another part of my body.

In fundraising, I need to consider my longer-term goals and make sure that I regularly doing what needs to be done to get there.  Yes, even on bad days when I may just have to bite that bullet and call (and call and call…) trying to get appointments with prospects for larger gifts.  Or perhaps this is the day when I must qualify my next major donor prospects from the pool I created too many months ago.

It’s tempting on bad days to just not do it, whatever it is.  But when you give into that impulse what happens is that you just feel worse, and then tomorrow doing what you have to do is even harder.

When, in response to a cheery “how are you?” I make a face or admit “not so good,” my gym buddies invariably respond, “well, at least you are here.”  And then they push me to get out on the floor and start working out.

On those not so good fundraising days, just force yourself to take the next needed step.  And then celebrate your successes, starting with the fact that , well, at least you are here.


Janet Levine Consulting works with nonprofits, boards and fundraising professionals, helping them to move from mired to inspired.  Learn how we can inspire you at  While there, sign up for our newsletter and do contact us for a free, 30-minute consultation.  Bad days won’t be so bad any more!

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More Giving Online. So What?

“Online Giving Up Over Previous Years” the headline read.  As if that means anything.  Thirty years ago, when I started my fundraising career, headlines could have read “Credit Card Giving Up Over Previous Years” and it would have had the same implication.  Not, mind you, that fundraising is up—it is still around 2% of the GDP.  Just that the way people give is changing, mainly because the way organizations are asking donors to give is changing.

Think about it.  A scant three years ago, less than a quarter of my clients had online giving capabilities.  Now, they all do. And yes, it does make giving easier.  But only giving at the lower ends.

Major donors—those who give at the higher end—typically will make them in more traditional way:  Stocks.  Checks.  Bank transfers.  From their own accounts, their donor-advised funds, their family foundations or businesses.

This is not to say that online giving is unimportant.  You should provide your donors with opportunities to give online.  And your landing page—the place they end up to make that gift—is critical.

For years, those who raise annual gifts have obsessed over the annual letter.  I have had development directors tell me that they go through so many edits, so much time is spent on telling the right story.  But truth to tell, the letter is less important than the reply device.  That’s where you can move a donor who has decided to give to give more.

OK, you could argue that it is the letter than pushed the reader to become a donor.  And I would dearly like to believe that.  But I think that is true in only a few cases.  Most of the time, the people who give to mail appeals are those who are committed, and those who have previously decided they would like to be committed.  That’s why even very successful direct mail have effective rates of less than 8%, often far, far less.

Since online giving is growing and is the way most annual gifts will be made, do invest in creating a great experience for your donors.  Tempting as it is, don’t ask for too much information.  I have to really want something to supply my address, , phone number, other phone number, email address, employment, job title.  I’m waiting for someone to ask for the name of my first-born child.  Often when that much is asked me of, I simply click off.  I am not unique.

So make it simple, and easy for me to make a one-time OR a monthly commitment.  Suggest amounts—but make them important.  That means asking me for a bit more than your average annual gift and then options for even more.  If there is a place where I scroll to find my amount, don’t have it default to zero or $1.  I’m repeating myself, but a few years ago, I was going to make decent sized gift in honor of a friend.  I had to scroll from zero and, frankly, by the time I got to 25, I felt like my intended amount was excessive.

Beyond easy giving, d do make sure that you can measure what pushed your donor to the website.  You really do want to know what works, what didn’t.

And then, if raising money really is what you want to do, you want to focus on building relationships with your donors.  Relationships where you learn about them—who they are, what they care about, what they want their philanthropy to impact so you can offer them opportunities to support something that will make a difference for you, for them, and for the clients and/or cause you serve.

Janet Levine Consulting works with nonprofits, moving them from mired to inspired.  Learn how we can help increase your fundraising capacity and help to create more committed board members at  While there, sign up for our newsletter and do contact us for a free, 30-minute consultation.

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New New Year’s Resolutions—Getting Unstuck From Start

In 2009, after my first full year of consulting, I wrote on this blog about David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. A friend had just given it to me, and I found it full of useful information.  Information that still—9 years later—resonates.

In the book, 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. I see this all the time with my clients.

It starts with why they hire me.

They have a problem—typically it is that not enough money is coming in.  They are not meeting their budgetary goals.  That, they believe, is caused by one of the following:

  • Their board doesn’t fundraise
  • Their development director doesn’t do what she needs to do
  • People aren’t giving
  • And did I mention: Their board doesn’t fundraise

Usually, however, the real culprit is the fact that there is no written fundraising plan.  More—there is no clarity about why someone would want to support them.

Sure, the mission is fantastic.  Obviously, they do good work.  But people don’t know about them; they are the best kept secret.

So, some think—we have to market.  That means we can’t fundraise until we have a brochure.  Ads. A video.

And again, we have a lack of clarity.

First—who are you?  Who do you serve and why is that necessary?

Second—who cares?  It’s terrific that you want to provide a better quality of life (whatever that is.  I truly hate when clients and students tell me that is what they do), but if no one but you really cares about that, no one but you will provide funds.

Who cares depends a lot on how you define what you do; how you explain its importance.

In defining the problem you want to solve or the situation you endeavor to change, you must understand what happens if you were not there.

Consider who or what you serve.  If your doors closed tomorrow, how would your clients or your cause be taken care of.  If there are other organizations who could take up the slack, consider what would be lacking.  And be realistic, what might they add that, perhaps, you should consider as part of your mission.

Now look at the good you do.  How can you measure that (and yes, you must measure)?  What difference(s) do you make?  How are things better—if they are better—because you exist.

Sometimes, getting clarity here at the start is the first step of what you need to do.  And here is where a consultant can help.

In my 2009 blogpost, I also wrote about 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.

It’s hard to do for yourself.

One of the things I cherish about consulting is that I have the 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.

And once we know what that first step is, it is easier to move forward—onward to our goal.


Janet Levine Consulting helps nonprofits go from mired to inspired.  Learn how we can help at  While there, sign up for the newsletter and contact us for a free, 30-minute consultant.

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Doing What You Can

My first fundraising job was at a very large research university that was (and is) well known as a fundraising powerhouse.  As long as I did the right things, which was mainly taking care of my prospects and donors and learning more about them so I could connect them to the things they cared about, raising money wasn’t hard.  And because my job was 98% fundraising, I had the time to do it well.

My next job was at a small nonprofit where I was not just the only development officer, but I was also the chief cook and bottle washer.  If you’ve been there, you know that meant little time and fewer resources to do development.

It was tempting to concentrate only on arm’s length fundraising. But I knew that the money really comes when you get up close and personal with your prospects.  So, I committed to having three prospect meetings a week.  I figured that in three months, I’d add a solicitation meeting to the mix.

That turned out to be unrealistic.

It wasn’t so much that I couldn’t find the time to have three more meetings. Somehow there is always time for another meeting. What I didn’t have enough time for was the calls to get three appointments a week. Based on sales experience, I figured that it would take a minimum of 60 (and more like 100) phone calls on average to get those 3 appointments. Even assuming that in 80% of those calls I got to speak only to the answering machine, that was the equivalent of one full day a week.  A day I didn’t have.

What was do-able, however, was to block out at least a half hour a day (or two and a half hours a week) to make phone calls. Because we hadn’t done any real fundraising for years, I didn’t exactly have a wonderful prospect list—but I sure had a lot of suspects!

I segmented by what I could—age and zip code, any connection to our organization. Where I didn’t have a phone number, I sent a letter—with a request to call me and a reply envelope. I didn’t get a lot of responses. Interestingly, though, I got more checks in the reply envelope than calls. That was okay. The checks generally gave me phone number and now my calls were much easier.

“Hi,” I would say. “This is Janet. I’m calling to thank you for your gift.”

That worked so well—over 85% of those folks were willing to meet, and most of them ended up giving larger gifts—that I figured I needed to get more reasons to make thank you calls.

A full-on direct mail campaign was beyond my budget, but I could and did send out large-sized post cards along with emails.  The goal of these was to drive them to the website to register. Yes, I want to receive information about…..Yes, I would like to get quarterly alerts….Yes, I would like to donate.  Gifts were nice, but mainly I wanted to get me up-to-date phone numbers for people who had self-identified as being interested in us, and a reason to call.

“Hi. This is Janet. Thank you for registering (or for your gift).”

Pretty soon (well, okay, it took 18 months), I could make 3 fundraising calls a week, which improved our fundraising bottom line immeasurably. Better still, the board decided that if I could accomplish that much by myself, think what could occur if they hired another staff member who was focused on fundraising.

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


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Joyous Giving

I spend a lot of time thinking about the difference between annual and major gifts.  You know—annual are those gifts you get year after year after year.  Except you don’t, of course.  Attrition rates, at least for small nonprofits, are horrific with more than 60% of all first time donors never making a second gift; and the attrition isn’t much better from there on.

So annual.  And then major gifts are those that are more than (fill in the blank).  But some of those major gifts are also annual gifts and others are just a fluke.

Instead, I focus on ways to get those gifts.  Arms-length, transactional, relational.

Annual gifts, of any size, are typically gotten because of arms-length and/or transactional methods.  You send out a message; an invitation to an event; a newsletter, an e-newsblast. Or you post on social media, or buy an ad.  In return, you get gifts—typically small, generally unrestricted, often randomly.

Relational fundraising generally means being physically closer to your donors, except if you are doing peer-to-peer fundraising.  And it generally brings in larger individual gifts.  Except, of course, if you are doing peer-to-peer fundraising.

The real difference, I find, is in the focus—what we are asking for.  No, not whether it is a restricted gift or not, but rather whether we are asking for our needs or working with a donor to find out what is meaningful to him or her and how we might create an opportunity that will not just appeal but positively make the donor glow with excitement.

Don’t give me that look.  I believe that great gifts come because they bring the donor joy.  Giving does that, but giving a gift that truly will transform (OK, an overused but useful word) an organization or a cause is, well, joyous.

Think about the large gifts people make to name a building, a wing, a classroom.  Sure.  Maybe they are egotistical jerks who love seeing their name up in lights.  But perhaps they just love the feeling they get when they see how their generosity has created change or made a positive impact.

Great and joyous gifts don’t typically happen during the normal course of doing business.  Donors don’t walk up and say, “You know, I’m really interested in…..” It takes work.  And it takes time.

The work is in getting to know your donor’s philanthropic interests, and in teasing out of them what it is they hope to accomplish.  It takes creating programs, initiatives, naming opportunities that will appeal and propel a donor to make a large commitment.

It means asking a lot of questions.  Listening hard.  Being transparent about your purpose.  And it means believing, unequivocally, that your organization, your cause, mission, purpose, is worthy of such support.

And mostly it means getting away from your computer and into the homes and offices of your donors and prospects.


Janet Levine Consulting helps nonprofit organizations move from mired to inspired—and to getting larger gifts.  Learn more at and do contact Janet for a free, 30-minute consultation.

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