The Dating Game

For too long, I’ve sketched out the development process as a circle with arrows, labeling each with the 4 “I”’s of fundraising.

But I’ve both gotten bored with looking at it and concerned that leaves out a most important factor—stewardship (and try as I might, I could not find an appropriate “I” for that).

But I’m also not terribly artistic, so I rely heavily on SmartArt, and that can limit things tremendously.  Then, for a workshop on Board Fundraising, I decided to another smart art graphic (and if I were a more technical person, I could show it to you).  And as I filling in the labels I thought how very much it looked like serious dating with someone you really care about this looked.

Going from left to right (you’re imagining this, ok?) first, you identify likely partners—that person who you believe has similar interests to yours.  And while you are identifying them, you are also finding out as much as you can about them. In other words, you are prospecting.

Then you ask them out on a date, or invite them to something, or have a friend invite them and you so you can meet and begin to get to know each other.  Remember—cultivation in romance AND for fundraising purposes—is always a two-way street.  Or, as my mother always used to tell me, “Make sure you shut up once in a while and let the other person speak!”

After a while, you ask (solicit–though in dating that might be a fraught word) that person for something major—to become more intimate, to marry you—whatever—it’s the thing that at that moment you want the most and which is a little frightening to ask for.  After all—that person could say no.

But let’s assume a yes.  So you have a big celebration or whatever—and it is terrific.  If you want to make sure it happens again, or stays terrific, you have to commit to some serious steps that will keep the other person happy and committed back.  That’s the piece we call stewardship—and it is one of the most overlooked aspects of development.

In fact, like marriage in the US, more than 50% of all charitable relationships end in divorce.  The Fundraising Effectiveness Project by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Urban Institute reported this year “For every $4.5 the nonprofit organizations gained in upgraded, new, and recovered gifts, a little more than $6 was lost in downgraded and lapsed gifts. For every 5.4 new donors recruited, slightly more than 6 donors were lost through attrition.”

If that doesn’t give you pause, I don’t know what will.

Now, maybe it’s because I’ve been attached to my husband for so long—but the thought of having to go through the dating process all over again is beyond daunting to me.  I’d rather spend my time building on our already solid relationship.  Seems to me that the benefits I get continue to grow.  I believe he feels the same way.

True, in development you have a lot of relationships and you do have to continue dating all the time—to be sustainable you must be constantly adding to your prospect pool.  The emphasis here, however, should be on the word add.  Don’t forget your old relationships….and certainly don’t let them forget about you.

Janet Levine is a consultant, trainer and (c0) author of the just released “Get Ready, Get Set, Get Grants” (available at  Learn more about her services at


About janetlevineconsulting

For over 20 years, Janet Levine has worked for and with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping to grow their advancement programs. Her consulting company, Janet Levine Consulting, serves a wide range of organizations from small, all-volunteer agencies to major national organizations. She regularly teaches courses in non-profit management, fundraising and grant development, both face-to-face and online at In addition to her nonprofit work, Janet brings years of experience as a business and sales manager in the for-profit sector. She has an MBA from the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University.
This entry was posted in cultivation, development, donors, fundraising, prospecting, solicitations, stewardship and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s