Whose Needs Matter?

The eblast started by announcing “Save (our Organization)”  then mentioned a matching fund challenge.  That was good;  matching funds work.  But they work best when the appeal is also enticing.  Save us sounds too much like, “We are so bad at managing our money—won’t you give us more.”  I don’t think so.

Next this appeal went on to mention a goal—then said that they had received a match equal to ¼ of their goal, so now they were trying to raise that other ¼–confusing to say the least.  Urgency came into play when they said, “To get the matching donation—we must raise funds by December 31, 2107.”

OK, but…why do I care?  I still don’t know why these funds are needed.

OH, wait.  At the bottom the appeal states that “Your matched donation will allow us to continue to provide free….”


That word without a clarifying phrase that tells me why free is necessary makes me think of that proverbial shiny shoe salesperson.

Free.  Maybe good. But maybe you are offering free services to people whose income exceeds mine.

Free by itself is not a reason for someone to give.

What would be a reason?

Tell me your outcomes.  What happens because you are there that wouldn’t happen if you weren’t?  And tell me why that matters.

I might donate if the services you offer are to a cohort I care about and who I feel need my help.

I might donate if your services truly make a positive impact, especially if it does that for people who need that positivity, badly.

I might donate if you show me that without you the problem you solve will remain unsolved.  And I would definitely donate if I understand why that problem is a problem and why it needs to be solved.

In other words, your appeal needs to be about me and about the clients or cause you serve.  It should NEVER be about you and your needs.

You don’t have enough money?  From what you tell me, I can’t help but think:

  • Stop being free.
  • Start managing what you have better.

Raising funds is not just about getting the bucks.  It is about making people care.  And you do that by showing them what you do and why what you do matters.


Janet Levine Consulting works to help nonprofits move from mired to inspired.  We help you be more effective in your fundraising.  Learn more at www.janetlevineconsulting.com.  Call or email us for a free 30-minute consultation and see how we can help you raise more money.

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The Whole Story

By tomorrow, when I’ve finally clicked through the hundreds of emails I am sure are on their way to my inbox, somewhere it will be said that Giving Tuesday was a great success;  more money was raised this year than last.  And perhaps that will be true.  I hope so.  Nonprofits can use all the funds they can raise.

But I fear it will be only part of the story.

The story that too many nonprofits will not look into:  to wit, is this new money that came in because of Giving Tuesday, or this recycled dollars that are given on Giving Tuesday instead of at their usual time.

Every year we are inundated with reports saying charitable giving is up or down; giving via this or that has increased/decreased, this shiny new thing is what you should focus on.  And we, more fools, take this information to heart and don’t do the hard work of actually considering if it is true for us.

Too often we have a tendency to look at each fundraising technique alone—has it brought in more or less than last time?  But that is not the real question.

A successful fundraising program should be comprised of a number of different techniques that reach out to a broad pool of prospects and donors.  Looking at one without considering the others is not useful nor will it tell you the whole story.

You must assess if one technique took from another—if donors are spreading out their giving across techniques and if so, is that a good or a bad thing.

For example, if the Smiths have given you $1000 a year every year for the past 5 years for annual giving and this year gave you $250 on giving Tuesday, before you claim that a Giving Tuesday win, you must consider if their other annual giving stayed at $1000—so now they have donated $1250—or if the end of year appeal (where they used to give you $1000) now brings in $750—meaning that there annual gift remains $1000.  Or worse.  If now that they’ve clicked through your Giving Tuesday ask, make a $250 gift they believe they are done, and don’t bother to give to your end of the year appeal.

It’s not just giving Tuesday, of course.  It’s any time a donor choses to make a gift because of one solicitation and ceases to give to another.

This is often the problem with organizations are having a campaign.  Unless you carefully cultivate your annual donors, explaining how their ongoing annual support is critical and you are hoping they will consider an additional gift to the campaign or a special project or to make their planned gift, you may find that while the campaign is doing very well thank you very much, the money needed to keep your organization doing what it does is suffering.

Making sure this doesn’t happen means making sure you are cultivating and soliciting integrated asks.  That is, where you are talking with your donors (note that word with, not AT) about their total gift—the one that covers annual operations, the special event tickets or tables, sponsorships, campaigns and, yes, Giving Tuesday.

Making separate and discrete asks that don’t show how this solicitation fits in with the whole development plan can hurt your total picture.  Moreover, it can have you spending time on the things that are least effective and bring in the smallest amounts rather than on what really helps to move your mission forward.

Janet Levine Consulting works with nonprofit organizations, helping to ensure that your fundraising program is effective and successful.  learn more at http://janetlevineconsulting.com  While there, sign up for the monthly newsletter and contact Janet for a free, 30-minute consultation and see how she can move you from mired to inspired.



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Sometimes, Less is More

Thanksgiving week.  Quiet, except on the roads.  There, as ever, traffic, multiplies.  The political landscape is depressing. Fundraising is struggling. Despite reports that it is flourishing, for smaller, non-basic need organizations, that is very far from the truth.

Money given to hurricanes and fires was not mainly new monies.  It was “instead” of donations.  Small nonprofits suffer from this.  People at the lower end of the financial pyramid—those who generally sustain these small organizations—are not giving, or not giving as much. Panicked by their inability to mobilize donors, these small nonprofits are facing cuts to critical services, to salaries, to staff.  This is not the best way to make our world a better place.

In one of the online classes I facilitate, I ask the students what’s good—and bad—about working in a small nonprofit.

The bad generally focuses on lack of resources and lack of a living wage.  What’s good is the ability to get your hands dirty doing the important work of changing the world. But how much changing really happens when you are so busy running around plugging holes?

As we move into the end of the year cacophony of nonprofits asking me (and you!) to donate, I find myself thinking, “Should this organization even exist?”  Is it doing something very different from the 12 or 120 other nonprofits serving the same or similar constituents in the same geographical area?  Is the difference substantive enough that it warrants another organization?  Or should these organizations gather together to better, more efficiently, more their missions forward?

Oh, I know.  This is yours, and you do it differently.  And perhaps you do.  But does that mean that it is smart or wise for you to go it alone?  Wouldn’t you be more effective if all your staff were focused on programs and there was combined back office and fundraising functions?

Nonprofits live and thrive because of peoples’ passions for the mission, the purpose, the impact of what their nonprofit does.  But does that passion get in the way of being practical and thinking about how you can best serve your cause or your clients and make a huge difference in the world?

Think about it.  Consider what you truly accomplish and how it impacts the issues you are attempting to serve.  Fewer organizations would be able to get the word out more broadly.  They would serve more people, have a louder voice.  Administration would be more effective and efficient, saving money that could, in turn, be used to push missions forward.

In 2008, there was a hope that more nonprofits would join forces.  Economic issues seemed to point that way.  Instead, most small nonprofits dug their heels in, cut to the bone…and sort of survived.  Maybe now, without those pressures, more organizations can consider what is best not just for them, but for their clients and for the sector.

Sometimes less truly is more.

Janet Levine Consulting works with nonprofits, helping them to move from mired to inspired–and to get the most from all their efforts.  Learn how we can help you and your organization by scheduling a free 30-minute consultation.  Check out our website at http://www.janetlevineconsulting.org, and do sign up for the newsletter.

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On Asking

The other night I was the speaker at a Junior League general membership meeting.  My topic was about the fundraising ask.  But even before I got up to talk, one of the members gave the best workshop on why asking is such a good thing to do.

She was talking about why she has been a member, and stay active, for over 30 years.  “I joined,” she said, “because somebody asked me to join.”  It was as simple—and as transformative—as that.

Somebody asked.

Of course, not everyone you ask will say yes—unless you’ve taken the time to learn about them.  About their values, their dreams, what they hope to get out it all.

Once you know that, you can connect those dots and make a yes all but inevitable.

Asking really isn’t hard.  Asking the right person for the right gift and getting the timing right is a little more difficult.  As is knowing how much to ask for.

Yes, you must ask for a specific gift.  Stress levels rise when you ask for an open-ended gift.  No one wants to give too little, or too much.  You owe your donor the peace of mind of knowing where the negotiations need to start.

For that reason, you must always, from the very beginning, talk about money.

“It feels weird,” people tell me.  “Not natural.”

But let’s get real here:  There is nothing natural about fundraising.  Mainly it fills a need.  The need of the organization and the need of your donor.

Just as we buy things and stuff because we need the item, or we simply need to shop, we give generously because it fills a need—the need to do good, make a difference, impact something.  Or just to be thought well of as a philanthropic person.

Our job as fundraisers is find out what that need is, and to help our donors fill it joyously.  And in a way that meets the needs of the organization.

To do this, you must focus your cultivation on your donor.  Throw away that carefully crafted pitch; leave your laptop with that adorable video in your car.  Instead, learn about your donor.  Ask them about their philanthropy—what matters to them, what they hope to accomplish.  Find out about the best charitable gift they ever made.  And the worst. Ask them how they like to be recognized—and what was a great example of that.

Make sure you understand how their giving decisions are made, and who needs to be at the table.

And don’t spring a number on them months after you started talking.  Begin with clarity.  Tell them upfront why you want to meet with them. “I want to meet with you to talk about a very special gift we hope you will consider.”  And then at the meeting, mention things like cost, the part (financially) you hope they will play.  Remind them that you are not asking them now—you know they have to have a lot more information—but you do want to make sure that you are on the right page.

Above all, while fundraising is a lot about relationships, it is not exactly about friendship.  There are similarities, and it’s so much better when donor and fundraiser actually like each other, what really matters is the passion both have for your organization.  While I picture friendship as two people hugging each other, I see the fundraising relationship as those same people reaching out to a cause, an organization, a value.  The relationship is not really with you but with what you represent.

This doesn’t mean that you are unimportant.  After all, someone has to ask in order for that other person to join.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to build fundraising capacity and to build stronger, more committed boards.  Learn more at www.janetlevineconsulting.com.   While there, sign up for the newsletter and do contact us to see how we can help you be more successful.


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What Are Boards For?

Boards.  Probably the biggest source of consternation for many nonprofit executives.  How
to get them?  What to do with them?  How to get them to do what you want them to do? If I were to compile an FAQ for what clients and prospective clients ask, these three would be at the top of the list.

A big part of this is the lack of clarity for both the staff and the board members on what the board roles and responsibilities are.

Do an internet search on that (why not? We do that for everything else!) and you will get close to 3 million hits.  A lot of verbiage on this topic.  And yet….too often what board members actually do is sit through interminable meetings where reports are read to them, and where they are asked to vote on things they know very little about.

I go to a lot of board meetings every month, and most are boring because most executives do not understand how to utilize the skills and knowledge board members bring.

Think about it this way: Boards are strategic; staff is tactical.  What that means in practical terms is that the Board sets the policies; staff hammers out and implements the procedures.

A policy is (according the dictionary) “a set of ideas or plans that is used as a basis for making decisions…”  Think about how much richer board meetings would be if board members got to grapple with developing ideas and plans that are meant to help you create the procedures (the steps for doing something) to accomplish those ideas.

Of course, saying policy is the responsibility of the board doesn’t mean that the staff sits around waiting for the board to decide to create or update a policy.  The ED, with the Board chair should be agenizing this; it should be part of larger discussions about the direction the organization is heading and what needs to happen in order to get there.

This is how your strategic plan becomes a living and breathing document.  And your board will also become more engaged, thoughtful and real partners in meeting your mission in the most effective and efficient ways.


Janet Levine Consulting works with nonprofits, moving them from mired to inspired.  Learn how we can help your nonprofit at www.janetlevineconsulting.com and contact us for more information.




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