Opening Doors

January.  A word that often curdles my heart.  According to Wikipedia, “January (in Latin, Ianuarius) is named after the Latin word for door (ianua), since January is the door to the year and an opening to new beginnings.”

What I love about new beginnings is just that—an ability to recreate yourself, your job, your organization, your relationships—it all.  And that can be exciting and wonderful.  And daunting. And what I hate is my sense that I should be looking at new ways of doing things, new things to be excited about, new things to learn. 

It is not the things themselves that I find unnerving, it is the “should” that I seem to place on it all.

Clearly, this is a personal problem, but I am guessing there are a lot of you out there who feel the same as I.

There is a joy in the same old same old.  I know what to expect and I know when I will be excited or frustrated. And mainly I know what succeeds. In short, I know what I know and that can be a comfort.  It can also keep you from moving forward to places you don’t know yet and, sometimes, backward to things you have neglected, forgotten about, left by the wayside.  Often, those are things that push us to greater heights.

Months ago, my husband sent me this article a company that is very successful—after failing 32 times!  They learned 8 lessons—7 of which are so transferrable to the nonprofit sector.

Start with the idea of customers first.   As they write: “Always, always focus on your customers. Understanding what they need, not what they say they need…”  

For a nonprofit to be successful, focusing on our customers is key.  Our customers, of course, are legion.  They are our clients, our donors, our volunteers, our staff. Unlike the for-profit sector where the focus too often is on the shareholder and the returns that shareholder gets, our focus is more mission-driven.  

The lesson they learned that won’t work for us is the one that says don’t raise money unless you have to. Well, maybe that, too, is transferrable. Nonprofits typically have to.  We don’t have products or services that we can sell at a price that will cover overhead and more.  Indeed, too many people—including too many of our board members—think that we do not need to have overhead at all.  More importantly, we are community organizations, owned not by individuals but by the public at-large.  Raising money from our “owners” is simply asking those who care about what we do to invest in ensuring that we can do it and do it well.

As I post this, there are only three days left to January.  Three days to un-curdle my heart, walk through that open door and look for new ways to fail and more ways to succeed.  I hope you’ll join me.

Janet Levine works to move nonprofits from mired to inspired.  She works with you to turn failure into learning opportunities that lead to success, and to build on the successes you have.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the newsletter and contact Janet for a free, 30-minute consultation (via phone or Zoom).

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Getting Things Done

The new gym I joined after my long-time gym closed is really crowded during the times I always worked out. Because I really don’t like this new gym, I found myself just not going.  Which made me crazy and very unhappy.  I decided that the way to get myself to the gym was to put it on my calendar and treat it as if it were an appointment with a favorite client.  

Calendaring it made me do something else—the time I used to go to the gym was not working in this new place.  But if I get to the gym any time between 10-4, it is pretty empty, and I find that I don’t dislike it quite as much.  More to the point, I have good workouts.  Now, every Sunday, I look at my next week, and find 2 hours where I can plug in “Gym.”  If the weather is nice and I have the time, I frequently walk to and from the gym—a round trip of slightly more than 4 miles, and that makes me especially happy.

At this point in my life, being happy—in work and everything else—is paramount.  I no longer want to do things that do not please me, but I am also old enough to know that not everything I need to do will be something I want to do.  Again, I rely on my calendar.

My calendar is NOT a to do list.  I keep one of those also—and that is a list of the things I need to do:

  • Write a proposal to ABC organization
  • Develop scripts for XYZ
  • Follow up with QRS
  • Go to gym!

After every client conversation, I put on my white board what I said I would do and, as I do them, I cross that item off.

No, my calendar is more serious.  For example, “Follow up QRS” has been on my board for two solid weeks.  I need to follow up!  Now it becomes an appointment; on Tuesday at 9:15 AM, I have on my calendar, “Follow up…..” and when 9:15 rolls around, guess what?  I pick up the phone or write that email that I have been avoiding for too long.

Needless to say, simply putting something on your calendar, or on a to-do list, does not guarantee that you will get it done.  Committing to honoring your schedule and treating everything that is on your calendar as imperative, will.

I don’t, for that reason, put things that are unimportant to me on my calendar.  Or, as I recently told a friend, I’m not generally a procrastinator, but when I don’t want to do something, I never seem to be able to find time to do it.

Even if it is calendared.

Calendar Janet to help move your nonprofit from mired to inspired.  Set up a free, 30-minute consultation and check out her website:  While there, subscribe the the newsletter.

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Think Big, But (Sometimes) Act Small

As the two ends of the rubberized bar touched each other, I remembered how, back in October, I could barely bend it at all.  I couldn’t hold a 2-1/2-pound weight, while now I have no problems with 10-12 pounders. Not too long ago, I reached to grasp something with my right hand, something I hadn’t done since I broke my wrist over the summer.  Progress. And much of it achieved through very small baby steps.

Too often—and I am frequently guilty of this—we want to improve immediately.  If we want to lose weight, we seem to think that refraining from dessert for one night should translate into an immediate loss of at least 3 pounds.  Increasing our workout twice should mean cut arms, and saying we need to raise more money should result in—right—more money raised!  But, alas, things don’t happen that way.

Baby steps do work….over time, and with effort.  Sending out an appeal after not doing so for some years will not result in a lot of positive responses.  Nor will reaching out for the first time to your donor list.  You have to do it, and then do it again, and then struggle to keep on doing it.

To be successful I think you have to think big, but often act small.  If you want to double what you are raising know that it could take years to reach that goal.  But don’t lessen that goal, just be more realistic about what it will take to get there.

That starts with doing a real assessmentof your fundraising program and the resources you have to improve your results.  By resources I mean mainly human ones—people to identify, cultivate and solicit prospects, and people who are viable prospects and donors. This includes a board that is both well connected and engaged and someone on staff who understands how to facilitate board members’ fundraising activities.

You also, of course, need to have a plan.  One that is strategic, thoughtful, viable, and considered.  A plan that looks at your resources—both the human ones and those that include your mission, your programs, the people you serve—and that identifies the ways you will fundraise, the steps you will take and who is responsible for what.

But a plan is just the first step.  The real test is whether someone—preferably everyone—uses the plan, follows the steps, and actually raises money.

Critically, everyone must also understand that yes, raising $300 can be a win.  It won’t keep your doors open, but it is a baby step in the right direction.  As is asking someone for a meeting, for a gift, to come to an event.  Any action will lead to many actions, and those will ultimately get you where you want to go.

Janet Levine works to move nonprofits from Mired to Inspired.  Get inspired at  Subscribe to the newsletter, and contact Janet for a free 30-minute phone or zoom consultation. 

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Sometimes newer is NOT better

I just wrote a post.  It all looked ok, but when it came into my mailbox….oi, as my mother used to say.  I THINK it is all fixed on the site, but if you got a strange looking post, apologies.  Just go to

New, it is clear, is not always better.  It really isn’t better if you don’t let the people who are affected by your change know what is happening–and what they need to do to adapt.  It would have been helpful if WordPress had let me know what was occurring so I could have ensured that I wasn’t blindsided.

Change is always hard, but it is  harder still if you don’t plan for it, get necessary buy-in, and ease into it slowly and with care.


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Move Your Fundraising From Mired to Inspired

About 15 years ago, when I was the Executive Director of a Community College Foundation, I attended the annual conference for the California Community College Foundations. At that time, most of us were offices of one (or part of one as many of us also had jobs within the college), and few of us were raising anything close to a significant amount of money. Planned giving hadn’t been on our radar, but a few of us were starting to push that agenda.  Accordingly, the director of planned giving at a mid-sized university was invited to speak.

She started by noting how important it was for us to get our “planned giving team” together weekly for a strategy meeting.

The room exploded….in laughter.

She looked confused. We explained:  for the most part, we were the team.  The team of it all.  We were all the foundation had.

This is not an unusual scenario.  While the vast majority—over 80%–of all public charities are very small, most of the advice, training, articles on fundraising come from the perspective of people who seem to believe that everyone has a robust development department.  Most consultants consult as if there is actually a backbench to support the person they are talking with.

But mostly, that is untrue.

Over my 11 years as a consultant, my clients have mirrored the sector.  Mainly they are small.  Mostly they are under-resourced. Typically, they are, mirroring my blog name, too busy to fundraise.  And yet, fundraise they must.

I pride myself on working with these organizations by first meeting them where they are.  And then helping them to figure out the best ways to raise the most money they possibly can.

That means that the plans we devise are specific to them.  The trainings I offer are heavy with specific tips on what they can do right now.

It starts by knowing what is making you too busy to fundraise.  And then figuring out how to change that dynamic.

Special events and grants are often the villain.  Considering the amount of money  (not so much) that is raised—and especially how much is raised for the all-important general or operating fund (way too little)—they are terrible ways to spend your precious hours.  But if you must, focus only on that which actually raises money.

When I was a one-person office, I left the logistics of the actual event—the food, the decorations, the a/v equipment—to the catering department of whatever venue we were using. I hoped my board would sell the seats and tables. If I was forced (by the board) to have a silent auction, I gave them a choice—they could form a subcommittee that would be 100% responsible for the silent auction, or I would hire a company that did silent auctions for charities.  I focused on sponsorships and I made sure that sponsorships were not cheap.  The benefits were all about public relations.  They could have a table, but unless they were willing to fill that table with senior executives and their friends, I would fill those tables for them.  I had been to too many galas where the most centrally located tables were either completely empty or filled with low-level staff who often drank themselves silly and created havoc at the event.

My second job was follow-up. Every board member was tasked with making sure we knew who was sitting in every seat and how we could get in touch with them. Certainly not everyone turned into a regular donor, but some did and a few made the effort more than worthwhile.

Likewise with grants. For starters, relationships matter there as much as they do with individual fundraising.  So most of my grant time was spent getting to know program officers at the various foundations and finding out what really mattered to them.

I did spend a lot of upfront time creating an internal case statement, which had everything I ever needed to know about my organization.  I also built two reporting templates—one for the end of the grant and one for interim reports.

For renewal grants, I allowed myself no more than 4 hours to gather and pull together the information. They were renewals, for heaven’s sake. I did not need to reinvent the wheel every single time.

New grants often took more time, but often I could repurpose information from other grants.  I kept a tight lid on time there also, often dictated by (a) the amount requested and (b) the length the proposal needed to be. Needless to say, government grants took a whole lot longer than proposals to private foundations.

There are so many ways to move yourself from “mired to inspired.”  It takes effort, but it is effort that is so worthwhile.

Janet Levine works to help nonprofits get inspired and out from under unneeded and time-consuming tasks. Learn how she can help you by scheduling a 30-minute free consultation (via phone or video conferencing).  And get help monthly via the newsletter. Subscribe at

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