So Maybe It IS Brain Surgery

My last post I stated, Throughout my development career—almost 30 years now—I have been reminded regularly that fundraising just isn’t brain surgery. But I’ve begun to think that maybe it is.”  One person who definitely thinks it is is Alison Levine, a nonprofit professional from Pennsylvania.  “Fundraising,” she emailed, “is hard..”  But here, read her comment here:

While it is true that fundraising isn’t brain surgery that doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard – just in different ways. Fundraising is very hard, and not everyone can do it well.

To be a good fundraiser, you have to stand up to pressure from social norms that make it 1. hard to talk about money and 2. tell you that it is somehow shameful to ask for help.

You also have to be able to set aside your own feelings and focus on what is important to other people – for businesses’ their bottom line is important, individuals have difference values, or the same values for different reasons. Fundraisers have to be emotionally intelligent and really listen to people. Plus you have to work a system, to accept delayed gratification and do things that can be counter intuitive (yes we know you hate direct mail, but it works). All of these things are big challenges and not ones that most people are naturally gifted at, or get much – if any- training or support for doing.

Brain surgeons get years of targeted training and support. Fundraisers are usually thrown into the fray, and have to learn while other people are putting unrealistic expectations on their work. Even worse most of those people don’t have experience with successful fundraising. Imagine some poor neurosurgeon on their first day in surgery. They are surrounded by lawyers, MBAs, and engineers. “Give the patient superpowers” yells the lawyer. “Yeah, make them telepathic” the MBA piles on. “It is all up to you” says the engineer “but you are doing it wrong, we expect miracles and expect them now!” Not very motivating, is it? Add in the general lack of respect and support for the job and it is down right disheartening.

Really, it is no wonder that it seems easier to sell ornaments, or accept .5% of eligible purchases from Amazon Smile. The average fundraiser only lasts 18 months in a given job and that is not surprising for such a hard, underappreciated job.



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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