Proactive not Reactive

Years ago, I ran a bookbindery.  Since then, I’ve tried to think of good things to say about those three years.  It was a business where margins were really low—in fact, my competitors were fond of saying that they lost a penny on every unit but made it up in volume.  The first time I heard that I thought they were kidding.  But no.  They believed it.  Each year (until they had to close their doors), awash in red ink, they would argue with me.  The answer wasn’t to increase prices; it was to simply bind more books.

I have an MBA, so I knew that was known as spinning one’s wheels (right into the grave).  I also knew, however, that wasn’t the only problem for the Los Angeles binders.  None of us were making enough to hire sufficient staff.  Certainly I didn’t have enough people to get the work done.

This was graphically brought home to me whenever I jumped off the forklift, ran to my desk to answer the phone and finish typing (yes, on a typewriter—this was a long time ago) letters which I closed with Sincerely, Janet Levine—President (in year two, I added CEO to my title, which didn’t do much for my workload but really impressed my neighbors).

I was so busy doing it all that I didn’t take time to figure out what all I really was doing—or if I was spending my time in the right places.

Work ebbed and flowed to its own rhythms.  When we were really busy I put my crew on double shifts (and paid time and half).  When we were slow, I laid people off, often permanently losing my best workers.  In other words, I reacted to situations rather than directing the action.

When I started fundraising, I noticed that many of my colleagues were in what I privately called “bindery mode.”  If a prospect crossed their path, they did something.  If a board member or the boss wanted something, they did that.  They went to every event, and when the event was finished, they went and did something else.

I, however, had been there and done that, and had determined that whatever else it was, it wasn’t the way to success.

Instead, I took the only goal I was given:  A dollar amount I was supposed to raise.  I looked at my existing prospect pool to figure out how much of that amount I could get from that group.  And then I figured out how many new prospects I would need to make up the difference.

I drove my boss crazy wanting to know the purposes for which we were raising funds—how much needed to be unrestricted, what specific programs were tops on the need list.

Then I developed my fundraising calendar.  I blocked out time to make phone calls, to do research, to have meetings.  I scheduled times when I would write personal notes to existing donors and send off pre-phone call letters to prospects.  And then I blocked out the time to make those follow up phone calls.

And I had quite a bit of success.

Of course, there were times when I got sidetracked. I’d have to go to meetings that didn’t seem to accomplish anything, or I would caught up in busy work that, in retrospect, probably didn’t need doing.  Others would control my time and my efforts, or I would become my own worst enemy. Inexplicably, I would be confronted with a name (or several names) that I feared calling.  There never seemed to be much of a reason, but that didn’t help me pick up the phone.

When I followed my plan, stuck to my schedule, focused on what needed to be done, I actually was productive.  But when I got sidetracked, well, not so much.

In short, having enough time to fundraise means making the time to fundraise and not letting other things, other people, pull you away from the really important work you do.

Janet Levine is a consultant, trainer, coach and writer who works with nonprofits and educational organizations helping to ensure their ability to forward their mission.  Learn more about her at  While there, don’t forget to sign up for her monthly newsletter.


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.
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