How Many Times Do I Have To Tell You?

sinks in.  But I’m a mother, so I know that 11 times isn’t enough.  If you don’t believe me, just think about how often in your own life people swear they never, ever heard the thing you know you’ve told them many times.

Like the Board members I’ve known who always swore that didn’t get the notice of the board meeting.  They assert this despite it being in their board books, announced at every board meeting, written at the end of the minutes of the prior meeting—which were sent, along with the packet for the upcoming meeting a week ahead of time, just before the email and phone reminders that my assistant always groused about.  Whew!

It’s not just board members, of course.  Staff is equally, maybe even more, guilty. The things they swear they never heard/saw/knew about.  Donors, too.  Most never got the letter you sent prior to your phone call.  I could go on, but I suspect I’ve more than made my point.

If you are the person who is responsible for raising funds, this is a lesson you need to learn well.  Don’t think that you will irritate people if you send a series of request, or inform them more than once about the things you do, and the things you need from them.  Most of the time, what you send or say will be disregarded or, at best, vaguely noticed before being relegated to the back of their mind.  And even if they do notice that you’ve said or written something, odds are, it won’t be exactly what you said or wrote.

That, of course, could as easily be your fault.  Perhaps you’ve not been clear—or at least not clear to that particular person. That’s one reason I am not a fan of “elevator speeches” or memorizing a case statement. What is good in general often misses the mark in particular.

Hitting the mark requires clarity.  That, of course, means that first you have to be crystal clear about what it is you want to say.  We spend a lot of time honing messages—finding the right rhythm of words that we hope conveys a sense of who we are.  But often these messages say nothing.  And even if you repeated them twenty or thirty times, the person to whom you are addressing this message will not have a clue who you are or why you matter.

That comes from understanding how your actions change your world.  When my kids were young and I was less serene than I am now, I too often used threats as a way to make them do something (or cease to be doing whatever it was that drove me up the wall).  On the surface—when the threats got loud enough—that would work.  But it did not have lasting good effects.  That was more because I simply wanted something to cease without thinking about what I wanted to replace it with or change it to.

When I began to understand that what I really wanted was to provide my kids with values and the sense that they could impact their own worlds, things got much less fraught.  That had to do with listening (mine) to what they were really expressing, and to responding appropriately so we could both get what we needed.  Mind you, that wasn’t always what either of us wanted.  And yes, of course, if you are talking about toddlers or younger, none of the above works.

The point of all this is, of course, that repetition alone will not get anyone to hear what you are saying.  Making sure that what you are saying is clear and speaks to your audience is a vital first step.  More than speaking, that means you have to listen.  And then you have to tell them 11 times or more.

Janet Levine is a consultant, coach and trainer who works with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity.  Learn more about her, her workshops and 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.
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2 Responses to How Many Times Do I Have To Tell You?

  1. Sign me up immediately for your posts.

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