The Three Ways to Raise Funds

In fundraising, we often talk about Annual Giving, Major Gifts, Grants…..but really, there are three types of fundraising:

Arms length—the fundraising we do from a distance, assuming our mission is so important that donors, regardless of how we lump them together, will give
Transactional—where you get something in exchange for your donation, like a gala, or a golf tournament. Grants are also largely transactional: for their grant to an organization, the funder can expect the organization to do something specific.
Relational—where a connection is made, cultivated, stewarded. Where the focus is more on what the donor hopes to accomplish than what the organization needs.

The fundraising behind door #3 raises the most money—but few small and mid-sized nonprofits spend much of their time on it. In fact, for many of these nonprofits, it is the “fundraiser”—the transactional way to raising money is the one most nonprofits focus and depend on. They are also the ones that have the worst return on investment; the highest cost to raise a dollar.

The reasons for this are clear: people don’t feel comfortable asking other people for money. It’s hard enough to ask someone to buy a ticket or a sponsorship, but at least there is something concrete the donor gets in return. And arm’s length fundraising happens at such a distance, there is no stress about asking

Successful fundraising programs typically rely on a mix of all three ways to raise funds; and institutional donors, as well as individuals, are often romanced and asked all three ways. Arms-length and transactional fundraising are, in fact, ideal ways to bring people into the organization and to keep them involved, but by themselves, they will not raise the kind of money needed to transform your organization and serve your clients or your cause in the best possible way.

Janet Levine Consulting helps their clients be the best they can be by helping to increase fundraising capacity, strengthen boards and move them from mired to inspired. Learn more at Sign up for the newsletter and do schedule your free, 30-minute consultation.



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Fundraising With the Right Tools

A few months ago, I bought a really good omelette pan. In my house, where I make salads and my husband is the chef of everything else, he has been wowed and excited by my excellent omelettes. I would like to take the credit, but most of it goes to the pan—the perfect tool for making perfect omelettes.

Yes, the ingredients count—a lot—and I am the person who puts those together. But without the pan I would have interesting but not gorgeous scrambled eggs!

Creating a great fundraising plan that actually raises funds is similar to making omelettes. You have to have the right ingredients, and then you need the right tools to make those ingredients look and taste the way you want.

The ingredients include:

  • A deep and increasing prospect and donor pool
  • Ways to engage and involve those in your pool
  • A process for keeping your donors happy
  • A way to know who your donors are and what they are supporting

The tool you need is an organization that embraces fundraising. You must have a culture that absolutely believes that raising funds for the work the organization does is a privilege and not something you hold your nose while doing (or not doing, but that’s another blogpost). An organization where everyone—staff, board, clients, volunteers—knows that raising funds is their job and understands that means a lot more than asking others for money.

Getting to this point takes a lot of work and a lot of effort. As with so many things, it has to start at the top. And for a nonprofit the top is clearly the board. Having board members who feel this way, of course, requires that the CEO of the organization understands the importance of fundraising and ensures that every board member understands the importance before they agree to serve.

None of this happens without education. Ensuring that appropriate training happens regularly is critical.

This education doesn’t happen just in a classroom setting—it happens by models actions and attitudes. It happens in boardrooms, at staff meetings, in casual conversations, and formal training sessions. It starts with an attitude that says “fundraising is a gift we give to our donors” and it is a gift you are pleased to give.

Janet Levine Consulting works with nonprofits, helping to move them from mired to inspired. Learn how with a free 30-minute consultation.

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Money

Money.  Some people will say that the love of it is the root of all evil.  Others think it is the major measure of success.  Many of us, and I do count myself in this group, have a difficult relationship to it.

Money was not something my parents had in abundance.  Which is a polite way of saying they had very little, indeed.  I never wanted for anything, but it was made clear that everything I had cost money and money did not grow on trees.  This made my sister marry rich and me extremely frugal.

Beyond beliefs about money, there is the generational element.  Not that younger people are more profligate than I, just that they have a different understanding of it.

My first husband and I thought that if we could ever earn a combined income of $20,000—wow!  We would be rich.  Beyond our wildest expectations.  Earn that amount today—each—and you are not expecting to be able to buy very much.

And then there is the fact that in this country, people will tell you their deepest, most intimate secrets about sex, but ask them how much they earn, and they will go ballistic.  THAT is private!

All of which is to explain why we get so crazy when we talk about fundraising,

Fundraising, after all, is all about money.  And that makes most of us pretty uncomfortable.

The upshot, alas, seems to be that even development professionals, never seem to get around to talking about money. We skirt the issue, dance around it, and wherever possible, keep as far away from a potential donor as possible.

Changing this dynamic means changing your attitude.  As Pogo so famously said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

First of all, recognize that the money you are asking for is not for you; it is to support an amazing organization, cause, or program.  And if you don’t think that your organization, cause or program is amazing, well, go get another job (or volunteer somewhere else).  To successfully raise money, you must first passionately believe in what you are doing.

Fine, you say.  I am passionate about our organization and what we do.  I understand that this to help our clients, push our cause.  But I still feel uncomfortable.

Many years ago—bear with me here, I will get to the point—I was about to speak in front of a crowd of over 200 people.  It was my first public speaking experience.  And I was scared.  My hands were sweaty, my heart was pounding, there was a roaring in my ears.  I took a deep breath and said—aloud—“boy, this is terrifying!”.  Not what I had expected to say.  And suddenly, I stopped sweating, pounding and roaring.  Best of all, the audience laughed and applauded.  They were with me.

Why not try that with your prospect?  Tell them that, even though talking about money makes you very uncomfortable, it is so important that you are forcing yourself to ask them for a gift of a certain amount.  And, of course, you will actually say the amount.

Even if you are not ready to ask—you just want to start engaging them—it is a good thing to mention money, and the amount you eventually hope they’ll give, from the start.

Warren Buffet, a man who certainly knows money, says that you should never “waste [your] time or that of the other party by talking, even preliminarily, about a transaction when price is unknown.” Who am I to argue with Warren Buffet?

Above all, remember that we in the nonprofit sector are really talking about when we talk about money is our mission and the incredibly important, critical things that we accomplish and for which we need enough money.


Janet Levine Consulting works to help nonprofits go from mired to inspired.  Let us inspire you.  Call me (310-990-9151) or email ( and ask for your free, 30-minute consultation.  And do checkout our website:



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For what it is worth

When I started consulting more than a decade ago, I went from having a fair size staff to call on to having… one but me.  It was a bit of a shock to my system, and it took me time to figure out how I could possibly get everything done.

It wasn’t the first time I was a one-person office, but it was the first time that every single thing—every success or every failure—would rest squarely and solely on my shoulders.

It was, in a word, daunting.

A friend of mine reminded me that the most consequential thing I could do would be to place a value on everything I did.  A time value.  To recognize that, like everyone, I had 168 hours available to me every single week.  And between 50-60 of those hours were spent sleeping.

In order to place a time value, I had to think first about the purpose of everything I did.  Writing this blog, for example, is important to me as it lets me think things through.  But it doesn’t reach as many people as I would like and it rarely brings me work.  So while I think about what I want to write quite a bit at the gym, in the shower, when I’m driving, I actually only spend 30 minutes writing and posting my blog.  Thirty minutes a week is what I think it is worth to me right now.

Preparing proposals is more important, but truth to tell, most of the proposals that actually turn into work are what I write after I’m pretty sure I’m getting the job.  It’s more an addendum to a contract—and I spend much more time on that than I do on sending out responses to RFP’s.

Doing client work is most important—preparing for meetings, following up on them and, of course, being in the meeting itself.  Also really important to me are my workshops and classes.  I probably spend more time than the amount I earn decrees, getting it right so participants and students find that the workshop/class was worth their time.

Most of my clients have small (often nonexistent) development departments.  And what I hear is a refrain of “I can’t do that, I have no time.”  As we have discovered, we ALL have 168 hours every week.  At least 35 of those are dedicated to work; more to thinking about work.  So true, not a lot of time.  But time that could be well spent if we consider first what our purpose is and why we do what we do.

Most fundraisers spend an enormous amount of their time developing collateral materials—that few people read and fewer become motivated enough to give.  And yet, if your job (or a portion of your job) is to raise funds, then your time must be spent in the most productive areas.

In my mind, those are getting new people knowing who you are, keeping your existing donors happy and prospects interested, and raising the most money to support your cause possible.  That means, in order of consequence, getting in front of the most likely larger donors and building strong relationships that will turn into dollars.  The next most important thing is to connect the dots for those who have given and have yet to give as to what donor support means and how their gifts help to accomplish what they, the donor and would-be donor, are interested in.  And finally in getting out there in person, online, in print, amongst those who might care about what you do and showing them why you matter and how they can become involved.

Everything else—the fancy brochure, the centerpiece at your gala, the look of your appeals, is very very secondary.

Spend your time where it will make a difference.  And in short order, you will notice the difference that makes.


Janet Levine Consulting works with nonprofits to increase fundraising capacity and board involvement.  Learn more at  Do contact us for a free, 30-minute consultation and see how we can move you from mired to inspired.

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When I meet people who work at nonprofits—and, as a nonprofit consultant, most of the people I meet work at nonprofits—they generally describe their organizations by telling me about their programming and giving me a blow-by-blow account of what happens when a client walks through their doors.  At least, I think that’s what they do, because honestly, like most of your prospects and donors, I don’t care about the way you accomplish your mission.  I care, if I care, about your purpose and the impact your work has on the community you serve.

I want to know why what you do matters.  Then I want to know about the impact what you do has.  Instead of telling me that you have 12 seminars that focus on….tell me who takes those seminars, what their situation is before they take the seminar and what happens afterward.  In fact, don’t even mention the seminars, simply tell me who you touch, why they need you and what happens after you find each other.

I want to know who you serve—where they reside, their ages, their problems.  I want to understand what percentage of the population is affected or how many people/animals you touch.  And again, I want mainly to understand what their situation is now, and how what you do changes things.

If I am a funder, I may want a lot of numbers; as an individual donor, I mainly want stories.  I want to be able to envision your clientele and see how you make a difference.  A real difference.  Do not, for heavens’ sake, tell me that you “improve the quality of life,” unless  you describe what that is.

Start by considering why you do this work.  Why do YOU care if cats are neutered and spayed or children have a safe place to learn the alphabet?  What is the situation that you want to improve?

How does this hit you where you live?  In your values and beliefs?  Share that with would-be donors instead of listing the programs you provide.

Better still, ask if this matters to the person you are speaking if and then ask why or why not.

My mother was an orphan, shuttled back and forth between an institution and foster homes.  She was very smart but never graduated from high school.  Her life was sad, and it never really got any better.  How would this information inform the way you might talk to me?

Oh, you don’t do foster children or education?  So what?  How could you have changed my mother’s life?

Oh—you have no clue about my mother.  Of course you don’t.  How often do you actually talk WITH your donors instead of pitching to them?  Turn that around.  Talk more to your donors; talk at them less.  Reach out personally instead of keeping it all at arm’s length.

Yes, it takes more effort.  But if you find out what matters to your donors, it will pay off handsomely.


Janet Levine Consulting works with nonprofits, helping to increase fundraising capacity.  Learn how we work at www.janetlevinconsulting.comContact us for your free 30-minute consutation and move from mired to inspired

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