The Point Is…Success on Your Terms

She had been in her job—one she loved and did well—for a number of years.  It was time, she thought, to improve her work status. She applied for, and eventually got, a job with a better title and a nice raise.

She didn’t like the job as much as she had liked the other job, but hey, it was a better title and the pay was higher.

Every few years, she continued to move into jobs with better titles and usually, though not always, a significant salary increase.  On the downside, she enjoyed each job a little less while her stress level rose.

She, of course, was me.  For just about 20 years, I moved on and up until I reached the top….and hated every moment of it.  Each morning I wondered if I could be in a bad enough car accident where I didn’t have to go to work, but not bad enough that I would actually be hurt.

It might have been where the job was; though I suspect that while I might have been less unhappy, I wouldn’t have been that much more sanguine in that position at any organization.  I was no longer doing things I was good at.  Instead, I fought for budget, played political games, and managed too many staff.

My neighbor, on the other hand, had the same job for 28 years.  But every few years, she figured out how to make it more interesting for her, and how to make herself more indispensable for her organization.

While her salary didn’t increase as much as mine, and her title remained the same for all those years, she loved going to work and got joy from what she did.

One of her colleagues was happy just to do what she did and what she did didn’t change much over the almost 35 years she worked.

Three models; three different outcomes. Yes, there are other models:  the person who did what I did and loved it; the one who got stuck and hated every minute.

The point is that there is no one way for you to be successful—or unsuccessful for that matter—at work.

After I left my last job I started consulting, and found what I was meant to do.  For the past decade, I have woken up every morning, excited by what lay before me.  I have never regretted my decision nor have I ever wanted to go and do something else.

The point, again, is that success is doing what works for you.  Doing it well, doing it joyfully.  Following your own road and not the road that someone else has mapped out for you.  Maybe you want that corner office, the nice title, the bigger salary, the opportunity to be in charge.  Or maybe you don’t.

The point is to figure out what success means to you and then to go and be successful.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits helping them to be successful by increasing capacity in fundraising, building stronger boards and more skillful staff.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the newsletter and contact Janet for a free, 30-minute consultation.


Posted in business practices, jobs, work | Tagged , | Leave a comment

What Kind of Fundraiser Are You?

When you find yourself at a meeting with a donor, do you ask that donor for another gift or do you ask the donor questions that will allow you to get to know him or her better?

This may sound like a trick question, but too often, the joke is on us.

We look at fundraising as a transactional activity.  I get in front of you—virtually or actually—and then I ask you for support.  And in many ways, this works.

People do respond to the ask that focuses on what the organization does and why the organization needs funds.  But the effectiveness of your ask—the number of yesses you get relative to the number of asks—is typically pretty low.  And the size of the gift—particularly as it relates the donor’s capacity—is often very small.

But to get larger gifts and develop more loyal donors, nothing beats building a relationship.  When you spend the time you have together learning about the donor, her interests, her passions, what it is she hopes to accomplish.

Note I say relationship and not friendship, for in this case, they are not the same.

Friends are equals.  The information you share is to help you connect more deeply to each other.  You are not motivated by things outside your friendship.
In a donor relationship, on the other hand, you are looking to align your donor’s interests with your organization’s mission. Donors’ not only understand this, they expect it.  Early in my major gift career, a sophisticated donor took me to task for spending too much of our time together talking about a project she was involved with that had nothing to do with our organization or her philanthropy.

“I have friends I can talk about this with,” she told me not unkindly.  “With you I want to talk about my next gift—and learn what is happening with my last one.”

Money is another difference.  With our friends, we’re usually circumspect about financial things.  With donors, however, it is smart to be up front.

Whether you are trying to ascertain their financial interest in a particular project, the level of support they are willing to give to you, or find out where you stand on their philanthropic scale, tell them your purpose.  Most donors will appreciate your candor.

When you ask a donor—or a prospective one—for a meeting and the answer is yes, you know that the (prospective) donor has opened the door.  Do walk through it and allow them to ask you to sit down and make yourself comfortable.

And then, get to the point, and talk about the generosity you hope they will bestow on your organization.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping to move them from mired to inspired—raising more money,  and building stronger staff and board members.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the free newsletter and do contact Janet to arrange a free, 30-minute consultation.




Posted in fundraising | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Look At Me

In Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty, loan shark Chili Palmer is always telling his “clients” to “look at me.”  It’s advice fundraisers would do well to follow, especially when they are talking to donors.

Not too long ago, a client asked me to meet with her development associate.  This person seemed to be doing a good job, but board members complained about her.  After 15 minutes, I knew why.  She never, ever looked at me. Her eyes were everywhere, mostly looking in the opposite direction of where I sat.

It was quite disconcerting.

Was I boring her?  Was there something more important on her mind?  Did I have something awful stuck in my teeth and she couldn’t bear to look at me?  Whatever it was, it did not make me feel warm and fuzzy toward her.  If I was a prospect, I would also not be feeling good about her organization.

There are cultures where people are taught it is rude to look directly at someone, and there are people who for a variety of reasons are incapable of looking directly at someone.  There are times when looking away indicates that you are thinking. But these aside, looking at someone while you are engaged in conversation—especially a conversation about giving—signals that the conversation and the person you are speaking with are important.  Looking elsewhere indicates the opposite.

Being seen is impactful. Not being looked at is irritating.

I want my prospects to feel that they have power, that they are important.  I want them to see me seeing them. And to do that, I have to look at them.

Janet Levine helps her clients to see and be seen so that their fundraising capacity increases.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the newsletter and contact Janet for a free, 30-minute consultation.  

Posted in fundraising | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Stewardship Matters

When I first started doing fundraising workshops—about a decade ago—I was dismayed to discover that the most basic of all things fundraising wasn’t happening.  Indeed, at one workshop there were 35 discrete organizations represented.

“How many of you,” I asked, thinking this was a rhetorical question, “send a thank you letter to every single donor for every single gift, regardless of size?”

You are probably ahead of me here and won’t be surprised to find out that the number was….2.  Two organizations out of 35.  About one-half of one percent regularly thanked every donor for every gift.

Things have gotten better.  When I ask that question now, most of the participants raise their hands.  But I wonder.

About a quarter of people I speak with who regularly make a charitable gift tell me about organizations that never so much as acknowledge the gift, let along actually thank them for their generosity.  And let’s not even discuss the percentage of donors who ever hear from the organization how their gift made a difference.

Ask my sister—about the most generous person I know–once said after she had call someone to find out if her gift was ever received, “That’s the last time I’ll give her anything.”

You do not want your donors to feel that way about you.

In fundraising, how you treat your donors is called “Stewardship.”  It is such a basic part of a successful fund development program, and yet many many organizations don’t do it well.  Many others don’t do it at all. And many of those who do it, only do so as an excuse to ask for another gift.

“Thank you for your gift.  Now make another one.”

There are two immutable facts about fundraising.  The first is that it is all about relationships.  The second, which follows seamlessly on the first, is that your best prospect is an existing donor.

To that second fact, I’ll add a caveat:  if you have treated that donor well.

A third immutable fact is that donors cease to donate to an organization mainly because the organization has not responded appropriately to that donor’s generosity.

Honestly, it is far easier—and far less costly—to get a happy donor to make a follow on gift than it is to get a prospect to make a first gift.  But we focus on finding that first time donor and ignore those who have already shown their love.

What should you do?  It’s easy:

  • Thank every person who supports you in any way and tell them how their support matters
  • Before you approach a donor for a follow-on gift, connect in some personal way. Let them know that you value their support and are thrilled that they are a part of your community
  • When you get a gift, don’t just thank the donor, engage with him or her and find out why they wanted to help and how else they would like to be involved.  You can do this as part of your acknowledgement or—better yet—in your follow up thank you from you, a board member, or a fellow donor.
  • Figure out a strategy for every level or type of donor you have.  Think about how next year you can better treat them and get them more engaged.

Stewardship matters.  Make it the focus of your fundraising.  You will discover that good things happen when you show gratitude.

Janet Levine is grateful that she gets to work with nonprofits, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and develop better boards.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the newsletter and do contact Janet to request a free, 30-minute consultation.

Posted in stewardship | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

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.


Posted in fundraising | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment