Crisis Fundraising

Many years ago, I managed a bookbindery.  The line jobs were both boring and low paying, and many of the workers could have/should have been doing more.

“I’m going to go back to school,” one of them told me.  “Then I can get a better job.”  But for now, she added, she needed to do this so she could pay her rent and pay off her car.

I tried to convince her not to wait; I told her that I would help and make sure she could work enough hours to meet her obligations.  It wouldn’t be easy, but in a few years, she would be in such a better place.  But always she had a reason why she couldn’t.

After about 2 years, I moved on.  But she didn’t.   She was still on the line; still talking about what she was going to do—when this, that, or the other thing happened.   I’d like to think that she eventually got it together and today—almost forty years later—she has retired from a really good job.  But I doubt it.  She had gotten used to living paycheck to paycheck and to thinking that she couldn’t change that pattern until things got better.

It’s this type of fallacious thinking that is rampant in many nonprofits.  They are so focused on raising enough money to close the gap between what they need to run the organization and what money they have that they think they can’t focus on planning to raise money to add value to their core mission.

This is crisis fundraising.

I know.  You HAVE to keep your doors open.  You must raise money to do that now.  And that means you will keep:

  • Going back to your loyal donors and asking them—again—to bail you out
  • Doing that event that doesn’t really bring in all that much but it’s tried and true and beside, the Board likes it.
  • Continue “slash and burn” fundraising—only talking to donors when you need a check.  Now.
  • Not having time to figure out a reasonable plan to get you out of this mess and fundraising for the future.

As I say to my dogs when they start to whine…STOP IT.

You will never have the time to plan, unless you make the time.  Time well spent because, to quote from someone, “plan your work, then work your plan,” really does work.

More importantly, building for the future will actually help your bottom line now.  For example, is you take the time to build a planned giving program, not only will you benefit later, but you will also benefit today.  All studies show that people who make a deferred gift also make annual gifts.  And typically, those annual gifts are larger than they would be without a deferred gift.  Why?  Think about it.  If someone cares enough to want to support you tomorrow, it stands to reason that they will want to ensure that you are strong and viable and you do that by supporting things in the present.  And it works the same with current major gifts.

Indeed, your focus should be on building loyal donors, particularly those with the ability to make a major gift.  But to do that, you will have to have a vision—on that goes beyond the crisis of keeping the doors open.

Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations helping them to increase fundraising capacity.  Learn more 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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1 Response to Crisis Fundraising

  1. Leslie says:

    You are so right. So often, as Development Directors, you get bogged down with the fire that is burning closest to your feet. I read recently that the ONLY thing a development staff should be doing is raising money. If we are going to be successful, sometimes we just have to close our door, concentrate on the task at hand and not join in for the hunt for paper towels that should be right here in the kitchen. (unless of course you are the one standing there with dripping hands!)

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