No More Self-Talk

We’ve always had multiple dogs.  Usually two; occasionally three.  And because my son often brings his dog over when he’s at work…or play, that number is increased by one.  So, as our older dog—Belle—turned 15 in increasingly bad health, I couldn’t help but imagine a one-dog home.

The last time we had to take Belle to the emergency room I told my husband that when Belle died, I really wanted to only have Minnie for at least a while.

Then, this weekend, while Belle is still very much with us, Tramp came to stay.  What part of “only one” turned out to mean “three?”

Thinking about that made me think about a recent board retreat.  The divide between what the ED thought she was saying and what the board members heard was enormous.  As a result, frustrations were extremely high.  The details don’t matter.  Communicating clearly is one of the hardest things to do.  A big part of that is because there is what you think you are saying, what your listener thinks she is hearing, and both of you putting your own spin on the meaning of each and every word.

Communicating well is a skill I truly believe we can only attain sometimes.  Partially that is because of the person catching what we are trying to communicate.  But much of it is because we get so intent on saying what WE want to say and ignore who we are saying it to.

Fundraising communications suffer from this big time.  I’m going to tell you why you should give to us, what we need, what matters to us.  It is all about us—or one-way communication.  Or put another way, we engage in self-talk.  We are, essentially, talking only to ourselves.  And then we wonder why our board members are not engaged; our donors aren’t donating.


Janet Levine Consulting works with nonprofits to move them from mired to inspired.  Learn how we can help you at  While there, sign up for our newsletter and do contact us about a free 30—minute consultation.

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Endowing the Annual Gift

Planned Giving is often considered highly technical. People who make planned gift often
do (or did) so for the tax benefits. And sometimes that nears creating sophisticated vehicles and creating programs or plans that will meet their donor’s needs.

But many planned gifts are pretty straightforward—a bequest left in a will promising an amount of money, a percent of the estate, what’s left after loved ones get theirs.
Finding purpose for these bequests often gives development officers pause.

Some organizations have gotten around that by asking their donors to help them build a substantial endowment, or to provide ongoing support for a program.

One way I found was to ask my donors to endow their annual gift.

The gift they gave each and every year was so important to the mission of the organization, I thought they would want to ensure that their support continued in perpetuity. So a donor who regularly gave $1,000 a year could endow that for a deferred gift of around $22,500. Thinking about inflation, I would then ask my donor to round up—to $30,000 or more.
You might note that I did say donor as opposed to prospect. That’s because someone who will endow their annual gift must not only be a donor but also be a very committed, regular donor.

It’s a great ask at the beginning of the new year. Develop a list of loyal annual donors and reach out to start the conversation about making their most important gift—the one they provide year after year—and ongoing gift long after they are gone.

It starts, as does most giving, with gratitude. “Clare, thank you for all the support you have given us over the years. Each year we know we can count on you for an annual gift of $2,500 and this means so much to our organization and our clients. I know it also means a lot to you.”

Be quiet now and let your donor talk—and hopefully tell you how much they love the work you do, the impact you have, and the fact that they get to be a part of that.

When your donors say such things it makes a perfect segue into the real purpose of your call or meeting. Or call to set up a meeting!

“That is exactly what I want to talk to you about.”

Now you can either ask to set up a meeting to discuss an idea you have or you can begin to talk about endowing his or her annual gift.

“As I mentioned, the fact that we can count on you every year is really important to our work. And for that reason, we hope that you will consider endowing your gift so it will continue even after you can no longer make a current gift.”

Because I always want donor buy-in, I’m not a big fan of a pitch. That means that I like to be quiet once I make a statement and let my donor add her thoughts, ideas, questions. But you must calibrate when to use silence and when to fill it. There are moments in a cultivation or an ask when silence becomes unnecessarily fraught. This could be such a time.

If your donor doesn’t say anything after a minute or so (and believe me, a minute can seem very long indeed), then continue and get more specific about what you are hoping for.
While your goal is excited about and willing to endow his or her annual gift, you also want to ensure that during their lifetime, they will continue making that important annual gift. By showing them how important what they do is today and tomorrow, you are helping to convince them that there annual support is a very big deal indeed.

Janet Levine Consulting works with nonprofits, helping them to increase fundraising capacity and build stronger boards. Contact us for a free 30-minute consultation and see how we could help your organization go from mired to inspired.

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On the Brink

Today, in the Chronicle of Philanthropy  a report on a study by GuideStar, Oliver Wyman and SeaChange Capital Partners called “the Financial Health of the United States Nonprofit Sector pointed out that half of US charities are on the financial brink.

Wish I say this was a surprise.  But anyone who works in the sector, particularly as I often do, with small nonprofits, knows that the brink might be an improvement for where many are.

Why is that?

Most people agree that nonprofits serve important roles in our society.  Many are doing truly terrific work.  And yet, there seems to be a disconnect between the value of what these organizations are doing and what people are willing to pay to ensure the work can be done and done well.

I see, with too many of my clients—not all of whom are small—the challenge of doing good with few resources.  And I argue with too many boards that their job is, in large part, to ensure that the organization has the wherewithal to do the work.  And no, that doesn’t mean that you—the board—keeps things very lean.

Fundraising is certainly part of the solution.  But for small nonprofits,  it can only be a very small part.  Too many focus their fundraising efforts—and the efforts of any development staff they may have—on getting grants and running events.

Grants can be an important part of your fundraising program.  But less than 14% of all charitable giving comes from private foundations.  And getting money from them takes time, effort, and a lot of luck.

As with any supporter, you must first identify those who might fund your work; and then you need to get them to know you.  More importantly, however, is the fact that many funders want to prescribe what will be funded.  And then they want you to quantify, evaluate, report on the outcomes of your work.  Of course, they won’t pay for that—it’s just part of the hoops you have to jump through.

As bad as that is, the other issue that most funders won’t give you a grant that is more than 25% of your operating budget.  Indeed, most won’t even give you that much.  Typically, you are looking at grants of $5,000 or less.  While that is not anything to sneeze at, often you cannot effectively do the project and evaluate it for that amount of money.

Events can be even more fraught.  They are great for engaging your board, getting PR, making everyone feel good, but often the amount of work takes too much away from other things that would be more cost effective.

Figuring out what would be most cost effective is critical for success.  But so many nonprofits—teetering on the edge—don’t have the time or often the know-how to do the kind of planning and research that requires.

One thing a board can do is to make staff development a priority.  Insist that development staff get out of the office—to meet with donors, yes, but also with peers, to take trainings, to talk with others who have been where they are.

Another really useful thing can be to pay for coaching.  Just as it is in the sports world, fundraising, outreach, marketing skills can be improved.  And those improvements can—and will—lead to a championship.  Or at the least, a firmer financial footing .

Janet Levine Consulting helps nonprofits to go from mired to inspired–thus no longer being on the brink.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the newsletter and do contact us for a free, 30-minute consultation.  

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Ask if you are going to ask

The other day, an email appeared in my inbox, telling me all about a new hoopla. It told me why I was chosen (good), what it would give me (okay, but I would have preferred an impact or why it matters statement), and that they hoped to “see me there.”
WHERE? What is it they are asking from me?

If I looked and read and reread this email enough, I might be able to intuit what they actually hoped I would do, but, frankly, I’m not about to do that. Mainly I just shrugged and then deleted the email.

If you want me to do something—ask me to do it. Straightforwardly and, preferably, with clear instructions on how to do it. And if it is going to cost money—whether a gift, a registration, a purchase—please, could you not be coy and make me click through several pages to find out how much? Honestly, you are not endearing me to you. And more than probably, I have clicked OUT of your site and you have been banished from my memory.

If you can’t figure out what this has to do with fundraising, you may be in the wrong job. Fundraising is all about asking, not just for money but asking people to get more involved with your organization than they already are.

And, just as I would recommend to the author of the aforementioned email, your asks should be specific and clear.

Janet Levine Consulting works to move nonprofits from mired to inspired.  Learn how at  While at the site, sign up for our free newsletter and do contact us for a free 30-minute consultation.


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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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