Paying Attention

Officially, summer this year doesn’t end until the 22nd of September. But for all intents and purposes, it’s over.   Those slower days, the sense that you actually have time before you tackle that, whatever that is, are pretty much gone. And it’s back to the franticness of it all, the sense that there is no time to get it done, that busy is a way of life rather than a word.

Yesterday, my husband and I went too see the Steve Jobs documentary, Man in the Machine. Love him, hate him—be one of the three people in the world who have no feelings for the man—what came through was his intense focus on changing the landscape of the computer industry. And change it he did.

Focus.   Paying attention. Motivation. Concentration. It’s something too many of us don’t cultivate. We get distracted by new ideas; think that there is something more effective, more exciting, easier than what we know we really need to do.

Nonprofits often suffer from this, especially in the area of fundraising. Rather than take the time to build strong relationships, we decide to throw another party. Instead of consistently showing prospects how their support will make a difference, we produce glossy brochures that say less than nothing. We spend too much of our time telling people how good we are, instead of sharing passion and values with our donors.

In small shops, it’s even worse than that. Simple things don’t get done on time—or at all. Important steps are skipped. Consistency goes out the door, and focus, well, we don’t have time for that.

As this summer winds down, take some time to consider how this next 12 months will be different from the last. You don’t need Einstein—or Steve Jobs–to remind you that if you don’t do things differently you will end up with the same results.

First, look at those last results. What was truly good? What could have been better?

Look at that again. Are you being honest? There is no upside to lying to yourself. So did your special event really net what you say it did? Did your direct mail have the response rate you claim? Did you really try to have all those face-to-face meetings?

Now that you have a real assessment, what things do you want to repeat? What tweaks need to be made? What things that you didn’t do (or didn’t do enough of) do you need to really hunker down and do?

In short, where does your focus need to be? I’ll bet there are things that you have been doing for eons that, frankly, you could put on auto-pilot and get the same result. If I’m right, go for it. Do that. And spend the time you’ve just liberated on something that will make a difference in what you’ve been doing.

Take the time to really look at your donors. Stop saying you have 1,400 when, in fact, only 42 make regular gifts. Put attention on those, and see which of them could be brought to a higher level.

Now look at the other 1358 and see if there are any that deserve closer consideration. What would that be? Write it down. Decide on specific steps. Put a date next to each and then…gasp, this may be the most radical suggestion of all, work that plan.

Carefully track what you do. If you tell your prospect you will get back to them next month, put that in your calendar and get back next month. And, because you will have documented what your last interaction was all about, you’ll actually know why you are reconnecting.

Focus on your fundraising. Don’t get sidetracked by things that seem easier or might be a faster fix. Consider not the immediate result but what the long-term outcomes could be.

And prepare to be amazed and gratified at what you can accomplish.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits helping them to move their fundraising forward. Learn how Janet can help with a board retreat, training needs, or creating a new development plan. Go to While there, sign up for the newsletter and contact Janet for a free 30-minute consultation.


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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