Too Fearful to Fundraise

It was a training session for a funded project where I am one of the consultant/coaches.  The topic was major gifts and we had been walked through the process of moves management (which is, I believed supposed to have one of those TM identifiers attached to it), and what a natural and primary partner is/does.  We were now on to the solicitation phase.  And suddenly it became clear why major giving is so daunting to smaller nonprofits.

For starters, moves management is a terrific tool—but that’s all it is.  It’s a helpful way to plan and document what you are doing as you go about raising major gifts.  And it’s a great reminder that while major gifts do occasionally just happen, most are the result of a lot of work.  Work that happens as you actually define a move—and take the action.  But by itself, it doesn’t raise the funds.  And, unlike a mail appeal or an event, there are not specific rules for each specific step.

“So, okay,” said one of the volunteers.  “I think my neighbor Bud is good for $10K.  So I call him and ask for the money?”

Well, no.  I mean, you can.  Lots of fundraising happens just that way.  But odds are the relationship is with the volunteer who knows that Bud is good for $10,000 because the volunteer just gave Bud $10,000 for his favorite charity.

And yes, we want the gift.  But more, we want the relationship so that long after our volunteer has moved on to another organization (you do recognize that happens, right?), Bud is still connected to us.

So our volunteer does call Bud, inviting him to something—lunch, coffee, a meeting in his office, an event at our facility—where he can introduce him to the organization and someone from the staff.  That staff person could be the development director or the executive director—or anyone who can help Bud get interested in what you do.

Through some or many cultivation visits, Bud is being brought closer to the organization by learning more about the things he lets you know he is interested in.  And you are learning what those things are.  And you are—or should be—having pretty direct conversations about his interests, what he would like to support, at what level, should he decide to become a donor.

So, no—the solicitation meeting is not the first time you broach the subject of a gift.  When you make this appointment, you are clear—“Bud, we’ve been talking…..and now we’d like to meet to finalize the details of your gift.”

Note that there are no surprises here.  It shouldn’t be so daunting to name a figure—it’s been danced around, flirted with, sometimes even stated specifically in the past.  Now it is simply the time to firm it up and nail down the details: Exactly how much; over what period of time; paid in what manner, using what—if any—planned giving vehicles.

Even though he knows—has known for a while—that this moment has arrived, Bud may still have some hesitation, some concerns, some late-breaking information that may change it all.  He might even say no after pretty much saying yes all along.  None of this should throw you.

Your job at this point is to keep your eye on the end goal.  Respond respectfully to concerns, address his hesitations, find out what that late-breaking news really means.

Even if the answer is yes, you may not walk away with a check or even a signed pledge form.  The details may still need to be ironed out.  But if possible—and it is possible more often than not—get a commitment before the meeting ends at least to the fact that a gift will be made.  The details of how and when can be hammered out later.


Janet Levine works with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping to get over their fear of fundraising and increase their 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 Too Fearful to Fundraise

  1. Jen says:

    I couldn’t agree with this more! Thanks for posting~

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