Bad Fundraising

Can I just scream?  Ahh, that feels better.  Now I won’t maim the board member who sent an email to some large annual donors asking them to pledge their unrestricted annual gifts for the next 5 years to a specific project.

How many things in this scenario can you point to and say, “Wrong!”  For example,

  1. Major gift fundraising via email.  Really?
  2. Asking them to commit to a project without finding out if they even have an interest in this project.  This is not being donor-centric.
  3. Cannibalizing your annual fund.  This is the money you need to run your organization.  You count on these funds and use them as your basis for your budget.  When you are asking for a major, one-time gift, make sure you are asking for what I call an “and” gift–what that is  made in addition to their regular giving.
  4.  Not understanding that restricted gifts are just that–you could simply use those funds for the one-time project if necessary.
  5. Not checking with the professional staff to see if this would be a good idea.

While I do applaud this board member for being proactive, I do wish he better understood that fundraising is best as a team sport.  That means that the fundraising team–headed by the ED or the Director of Development–strategizes and plans moves before they happen.  Thought is given to how best to approach donors and prospects.  There is clarity and agreement on your goal.

As part of team, there is also discussion and agreement on who should be at what meetings.  Who sets the appointment?  Who does the follow up?  Who documents the activities?

Had any of these happened, the email that did go out would never have been sent.  The donors would not have been asked to pledge their annual gifts for the next 5 years to a specific project.  There would, instead, have been good conversations with strong supporters of the organization. They would have felt valued as they were thanked (again) for their support and show precisely how that support has made a difference.  They would have learned about an important initiative that they might want to (also!) support.

Because it would have been a conversation, the organization would now have additional and, I believe important, information about that donor and what he or she cares about, wants to occur, how he or she would like to be recognized.

Yes, you much ask or you won’t get. But you must ask in the right way–or what you get may not be what you really wanted.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase fundraising capacity and build stronger, more committed boards.  Learn how she can help your organization at or email her 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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