Good fundraisers borrow….

In the documentary series, Soundbreaking (now available on Acorn), one of the producers talks about the fact that there are just so many notes and so many beats in the world of music. Repetition and sometimes things that may sound like plagiarism abounds.  Or, as Picasso is widely attributed as saying “good artists borrow, great artists steal.”

I’m not advocating plagiarism, but I do know that there is just so much that is truly new in

the world and much that is merely retreads.

Retreads, of course, aren’t always bad or boring or something to be avoided at all costs. Sometimes they are the only, the best, the most effective thing you can do.  This is particularly true in fundraising.

There are many people who think that following the newest, shiniest idea is what you need to do. However, often, the tried, the true, create a better path.  Doing something once doesn’t always make it; doing something because no one else is doing it may simply prove to you why no one else is doing it.

In fundraising what really works is building relationships between the donor and the organization. That means more personally than social media, closer than direct mail, more intimately than a large special event.

While all the transactional ways of fundraising can help to garner new donors and keep lower-end gifts coming in, they are truly awful in retaining donors (just look at our dismal donor retention rates) or moving donors up the giving pyramid.  Both those things—which if successful would increase your fundraising results by a great deal—are best done face to face.  And yes, I know—you don’t have the time and even if you did, donors don’t respond to requests for meetings.

But of course you do and they will, it just takes planning.

Plan to do your major donor strategizing at least 4 hours a week.  That’s arguably more important than the 4 hours you are currently spending on the gala committee meeting or rewriting the renewal grant (which, as a renewal, shouldn’t take much time at all).

Learn all you can about these prospects, including what they care about and who they connect to.  And then utilize those connections and that caring as you plan how to get in front of that prospect.

In my fundraising days, rarely did the natural partner—the person who could best open the door to a prospect—actually call for the appointment.  That, we both (eventually) agreed, was my job.  But I did use their connection to help get that meeting.

First I would ask them to send a note (or in later years, send an email) saying how they had asked Janet Levine to set up a meeting for the three (or four, if a spouse or partner was to be included) of us and that it was hoped that my call would be taken. It almost always was.

When I called, I didn’t say that so and so suggested I call.  Rather, I would say that so and so asked me to set up a meeting for the three of us. Most of the time, the only hitch was finding a time when the 3 of us could actually be in the same place at the same time.

Following the “old” ways, using the structures those way before we developed, has helped me to raise and to help my clients to raise a whole heck of a lot of money.  Doing what works, standing on the shoulders of the best, will help you to do the same.


Janet Levine helps to move nonprofits from mired to inspired.  Let her inspire you.  Learn more at  Sign up for the newsletter and do 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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