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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Whose Needs Matter?

The eblast started by announcing “Save (our Organization)”  then mentioned a matching fund challenge.  That was good;  matching funds work.  But they work best when the appeal is also enticing.  Save us sounds too much like, “We are so bad at managing our money—won’t you give us more.”  I don’t think so.

Next this appeal went on to mention a goal—then said that they had received a match equal to ¼ of their goal, so now they were trying to raise that other ¼–confusing to say the least.  Urgency came into play when they said, “To get the matching donation—we must raise funds by December 31, 2107.”

OK, but…why do I care?  I still don’t know why these funds are needed.

OH, wait.  At the bottom the appeal states that “Your matched donation will allow us to continue to provide free….”


That word without a clarifying phrase that tells me why free is necessary makes me think of that proverbial shiny shoe salesperson.

Free.  Maybe good. But maybe you are offering free services to people whose income exceeds mine.

Free by itself is not a reason for someone to give.

What would be a reason?

Tell me your outcomes.  What happens because you are there that wouldn’t happen if you weren’t?  And tell me why that matters.

I might donate if the services you offer are to a cohort I care about and who I feel need my help.

I might donate if your services truly make a positive impact, especially if it does that for people who need that positivity, badly.

I might donate if you show me that without you the problem you solve will remain unsolved.  And I would definitely donate if I understand why that problem is a problem and why it needs to be solved.

In other words, your appeal needs to be about me and about the clients or cause you serve.  It should NEVER be about you and your needs.

You don’t have enough money?  From what you tell me, I can’t help but think:

  • Stop being free.
  • Start managing what you have better.

Raising funds is not just about getting the bucks.  It is about making people care.  And you do that by showing them what you do and why what you do matters.


Janet Levine Consulting works to help nonprofits move from mired to inspired.  We help you be more effective in your fundraising.  Learn more at  Call or email us for a free 30-minute consultation and see how we can help you raise more money.

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The Whole Story

By tomorrow, when I’ve finally clicked through the hundreds of emails I am sure are on their way to my inbox, somewhere it will be said that Giving Tuesday was a great success;  more money was raised this year than last.  And perhaps that will be true.  I hope so.  Nonprofits can use all the funds they can raise.

But I fear it will be only part of the story.

The story that too many nonprofits will not look into:  to wit, is this new money that came in because of Giving Tuesday, or this recycled dollars that are given on Giving Tuesday instead of at their usual time.

Every year we are inundated with reports saying charitable giving is up or down; giving via this or that has increased/decreased, this shiny new thing is what you should focus on.  And we, more fools, take this information to heart and don’t do the hard work of actually considering if it is true for us.

Too often we have a tendency to look at each fundraising technique alone—has it brought in more or less than last time?  But that is not the real question.

A successful fundraising program should be comprised of a number of different techniques that reach out to a broad pool of prospects and donors.  Looking at one without considering the others is not useful nor will it tell you the whole story.

You must assess if one technique took from another—if donors are spreading out their giving across techniques and if so, is that a good or a bad thing.

For example, if the Smiths have given you $1000 a year every year for the past 5 years for annual giving and this year gave you $250 on giving Tuesday, before you claim that a Giving Tuesday win, you must consider if their other annual giving stayed at $1000—so now they have donated $1250—or if the end of year appeal (where they used to give you $1000) now brings in $750—meaning that there annual gift remains $1000.  Or worse.  If now that they’ve clicked through your Giving Tuesday ask, make a $250 gift they believe they are done, and don’t bother to give to your end of the year appeal.

It’s not just giving Tuesday, of course.  It’s any time a donor choses to make a gift because of one solicitation and ceases to give to another.

This is often the problem with organizations are having a campaign.  Unless you carefully cultivate your annual donors, explaining how their ongoing annual support is critical and you are hoping they will consider an additional gift to the campaign or a special project or to make their planned gift, you may find that while the campaign is doing very well thank you very much, the money needed to keep your organization doing what it does is suffering.

Making sure this doesn’t happen means making sure you are cultivating and soliciting integrated asks.  That is, where you are talking with your donors (note that word with, not AT) about their total gift—the one that covers annual operations, the special event tickets or tables, sponsorships, campaigns and, yes, Giving Tuesday.

Making separate and discrete asks that don’t show how this solicitation fits in with the whole development plan can hurt your total picture.  Moreover, it can have you spending time on the things that are least effective and bring in the smallest amounts rather than on what really helps to move your mission forward.

Janet Levine Consulting works with nonprofit organizations, helping to ensure that your fundraising program is effective and successful.  learn more at  While there, sign up for the monthly newsletter and contact Janet for a free, 30-minute consultation and see how she can move you from mired to inspired.



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Sometimes, Less is More

Thanksgiving week.  Quiet, except on the roads.  There, as ever, traffic, multiplies.  The political landscape is depressing. Fundraising is struggling. Despite reports that it is flourishing, for smaller, non-basic need organizations, that is very far from the truth.

Money given to hurricanes and fires was not mainly new monies.  It was “instead” of donations.  Small nonprofits suffer from this.  People at the lower end of the financial pyramid—those who generally sustain these small organizations—are not giving, or not giving as much. Panicked by their inability to mobilize donors, these small nonprofits are facing cuts to critical services, to salaries, to staff.  This is not the best way to make our world a better place.

In one of the online classes I facilitate, I ask the students what’s good—and bad—about working in a small nonprofit.

The bad generally focuses on lack of resources and lack of a living wage.  What’s good is the ability to get your hands dirty doing the important work of changing the world. But how much changing really happens when you are so busy running around plugging holes?

As we move into the end of the year cacophony of nonprofits asking me (and you!) to donate, I find myself thinking, “Should this organization even exist?”  Is it doing something very different from the 12 or 120 other nonprofits serving the same or similar constituents in the same geographical area?  Is the difference substantive enough that it warrants another organization?  Or should these organizations gather together to better, more efficiently, more their missions forward?

Oh, I know.  This is yours, and you do it differently.  And perhaps you do.  But does that mean that it is smart or wise for you to go it alone?  Wouldn’t you be more effective if all your staff were focused on programs and there was combined back office and fundraising functions?

Nonprofits live and thrive because of peoples’ passions for the mission, the purpose, the impact of what their nonprofit does.  But does that passion get in the way of being practical and thinking about how you can best serve your cause or your clients and make a huge difference in the world?

Think about it.  Consider what you truly accomplish and how it impacts the issues you are attempting to serve.  Fewer organizations would be able to get the word out more broadly.  They would serve more people, have a louder voice.  Administration would be more effective and efficient, saving money that could, in turn, be used to push missions forward.

In 2008, there was a hope that more nonprofits would join forces.  Economic issues seemed to point that way.  Instead, most small nonprofits dug their heels in, cut to the bone…and sort of survived.  Maybe now, without those pressures, more organizations can consider what is best not just for them, but for their clients and for the sector.

Sometimes less truly is more.

Janet Levine Consulting works with nonprofits, helping them to move from mired to inspired–and to get the most from all their efforts.  Learn how we can help you and your organization by scheduling a free 30-minute consultation.  Check out our website at, and do sign up for the newsletter.

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On Asking

The other night I was the speaker at a Junior League general membership meeting.  My topic was about the fundraising ask.  But even before I got up to talk, one of the members gave the best workshop on why asking is such a good thing to do.

She was talking about why she has been a member, and stay active, for over 30 years.  “I joined,” she said, “because somebody asked me to join.”  It was as simple—and as transformative—as that.

Somebody asked.

Of course, not everyone you ask will say yes—unless you’ve taken the time to learn about them.  About their values, their dreams, what they hope to get out it all.

Once you know that, you can connect those dots and make a yes all but inevitable.

Asking really isn’t hard.  Asking the right person for the right gift and getting the timing right is a little more difficult.  As is knowing how much to ask for.

Yes, you must ask for a specific gift.  Stress levels rise when you ask for an open-ended gift.  No one wants to give too little, or too much.  You owe your donor the peace of mind of knowing where the negotiations need to start.

For that reason, you must always, from the very beginning, talk about money.

“It feels weird,” people tell me.  “Not natural.”

But let’s get real here:  There is nothing natural about fundraising.  Mainly it fills a need.  The need of the organization and the need of your donor.

Just as we buy things and stuff because we need the item, or we simply need to shop, we give generously because it fills a need—the need to do good, make a difference, impact something.  Or just to be thought well of as a philanthropic person.

Our job as fundraisers is find out what that need is, and to help our donors fill it joyously.  And in a way that meets the needs of the organization.

To do this, you must focus your cultivation on your donor.  Throw away that carefully crafted pitch; leave your laptop with that adorable video in your car.  Instead, learn about your donor.  Ask them about their philanthropy—what matters to them, what they hope to accomplish.  Find out about the best charitable gift they ever made.  And the worst. Ask them how they like to be recognized—and what was a great example of that.

Make sure you understand how their giving decisions are made, and who needs to be at the table.

And don’t spring a number on them months after you started talking.  Begin with clarity.  Tell them upfront why you want to meet with them. “I want to meet with you to talk about a very special gift we hope you will consider.”  And then at the meeting, mention things like cost, the part (financially) you hope they will play.  Remind them that you are not asking them now—you know they have to have a lot more information—but you do want to make sure that you are on the right page.

Above all, while fundraising is a lot about relationships, it is not exactly about friendship.  There are similarities, and it’s so much better when donor and fundraiser actually like each other, what really matters is the passion both have for your organization.  While I picture friendship as two people hugging each other, I see the fundraising relationship as those same people reaching out to a cause, an organization, a value.  The relationship is not really with you but with what you represent.

This doesn’t mean that you are unimportant.  After all, someone has to ask in order for that other person to join.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to build fundraising capacity and to build stronger, more committed boards.  Learn more at   While there, sign up for the newsletter and do contact us to see how we can help you be more successful.


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