Steps to Success

As someone who does a lot of training, I appreciate the importance of making sure that my audience is hearing what I think I am saying.  One way to ensure that is to regularly define my terms.  Fundraising, like all other fields of endeavor, has its own peculiar jargon and expecting that everyone will understand what I mean when I say something is hubris as its worst.  I was reminded of this the other day when one of my clients’ noted that “major gifts are part of our annual fund.”


And then there are all those people who think their excel spreadsheets are their donor databases and look confused when I try to explain why a spreadsheet and a database are not the same.

The most egregious are those who conflate cultivating a donor with waving at them across the ballroom at an event, in the auditorium of a performance, or by sending them an invite to buy a ticket to something.  Or think that a newsletter is a cultivation step.

At best those might be touches—acts that remind the person that you exist.

Touches are important. As someone once noted, you can’t be hugged if the hugger doesn’t know who you are.  But don’t for a moment think that the person who has attended two of your galas, been getting your newsletter for 3 years, and said hi to you in the supermarket line is ready to be solicited for a major gift.

Cultivation should be a carefully planned series of steps that bring prospects closer to becoming donors. And since your best prospect is always an existing donor, these steps may take place over a long period of time that is punctuated by regular or occasional giving.

These steps need to be personal, and must be intentional.  If I do, indeed, see someone at the supermarket, that is a touch. When I then follow up with a call and arrange a meeting or a tour of my facility, those acts are moves.  And when we discuss at that meeting or on that tour the things that they hope to accomplish with their philanthropic giving, we are moving closer and closer to the point where a solicitation will be successful.

After all, it’s not just about holding out our hands for a gift.  It is creating a space where giving is done joyously because it fulfills the donor’s needs.

To do that, you must know what matters to your donors.  And you must consistently show them the impact that their giving has on the work your organization does.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to go from mired to inspired.  Learn how she can help inspire you and your board at  Do sign up for the newsletter and call Janet to arrange a free 30-minute consul

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Let’s NOT Have Lunch

I had just mentioned qualifying meetings as an important step as you are researching potential major donors. A woman in the audience raised her hand and talked about how impossible it was to get prospects and donors to say yes to lunch.  She saw that when she worked in New York, and she was seeing it even more here in LA.

Another audience member noted that everyone is busy.  Lunch is a big commitment.  What she has found much more successful is asking for a 20-minute meeting at their home or office.

I see this in my own business.  Even if the meeting is at noon, it is in a potential client’s office and not at a restaurant.  The focus of the meeting is the business we need to conduct, and then we are done.

I kind of like this. Lunch, for me, is a time to unwind; relax.  Maybe meet a friend; maybe read.  Sometimes just to stare ahead, with not much thought in my head.

Beyond my preferences, of course, lies the preference of the prospect.  Occasionally there is that person who prefers lunch (or breakfast), but we should not assume that everyone wants meetings to include food.

“I would love to get together with you for a quick conversation about your support (or our organization, this new initiative—whatever the purpose of your meeting will be). What time of day works best for you?” is a good way to approach this.

In asking, you are always trying to get your prospect to answer the question you are asking. Here, you are asking for a face to face meeting.  Easy enough to say no to lunch;  harder to say “no time works.”

People might say that, of course.  Then your response should be “I do understand.  How, then, can we best discuss these important issues?”

I do have a client who received a 7-figure gift and only conversed via text.  They never, ever met the donor in person.  Unusual, but that was what the donor wanted.

Too often, we think we know the best way to cultivate a prospect.  And too often, we get frustrated because—clearly—the prospect doesn’t agree with us.

As with all things fundraising related, your best tactic is to put it to the prospect.

Because I am on the road a lot, I rely heavily on email.  Most of my prospects like that.  But some prefer a phone call.  In lieu of in person meetings, I offer video conferencing.  So people love that we can get together from the comfort of everyone’s own office or home.  Other clients hate the idea, and all of our meetings happen in their facility.

Your prospects are no different.  Finding out what works best in their all too full lives will end up working best for you. And I’m guessing that most of the time, it won’t include lunch.

Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping to move them from mired to inspired.  If you need help with your fundraising or board development, shoot me an email or give me a call at 301-990-9151. And do go to my website and sign up for the newsletter.


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Calling Fundraising What It Is

It’s past time, I think, for a new fundraising language. We talk about annual and major gifts; gifts that are planned (as if all other gifts are randomly made), institutional giving—which usually isn’t a gift in any sense of the word as there are contracts, deliverables, all sorts of quid pro quo’s.
Let’s start and spend a minute on annual gifts. These are the ones you can depend on year after year after year, to run your organization. But the ugly truth is that more than 60% of all annual donors who make a first time gift to your organization will never, ever make a second.  So annual becomes first and only annual gift.

Truth to tell, when people think annual, they think smaller gifts.  Gifts that are gotten transactionally.   You could call these sustaining gifts—though that term seems to have been snapped up to mean monthly donors—because in truth these are the gifts that sustain (support, maintain) your status quo.  These are the gifts you budget with.  The ones who maintain your operating costs.  They are also the gifts that are made from your donor’s income.

Major gifts are thought to be a gift that is larger than some magic number.  That number varies from organization to organization.  But that should just be a threshold, below which a gift is not considered major.  If, however, I am giving you a gift of that size or larger year after year after year, I am not giving you a major gift.  I am simply doing what I can easily do and to me, it is my yearly support.

A real major gift is something that is large—by organization’s standards and by your donor’s.  It is a gift that will make a difference all by itself. It is usually restricted—not meant to merely help maintain what you do.  And it is often given over a specific number of years.  These gifts are thoughtful.  They are significant.  They are one-time gifts (though a donor can be a serial giver of these large gifts).  These gifts often come from someone’s assets.

Planned gifts are those that come as a result of estate planning.  Though often the plan—especially if there is not much of an estate–is simply to make a bequest, name your organization as a beneficiary of an insurance or retirement policy.

We often call these gifts legacy gifts because they are what the donor leaves behind when he or she dies. That, however, often keeps an organization from asking for these gifts, or even acknowledging that these sort of gifts exist.

I like to talk about tomorrow gifts—the one that ensure the organization will be around for generations to come.

And while I have nothing against corporate giving—I started my career as a director of corporate relations—I think it would be more honest to call it something that acknowledges that by and large there is a return on the investment.

Fundraising, we also maintain, is all about relationships.  I agree. But it is also about clarity, and I think the place to start is by being very clear about the gifts that we are asking for.


Janet Levine helps nonprofits go from mired to inspired, with better fundraising results and more focused boards.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the newsletter and contact Janet for a free, 30-minute consultation.


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Campaign and Major Gift Success

Capital campaigns tend to bring out the best in fundraising—large gifts for important projects.  It works because campaigns are, or should be, time-limited activities using a variety of techniques to raise funds for a specific project.  When that is the case, success generally follows.

Very large organizations—universities, hospitals—can throw a bunch of other projects into the mix, but typically each unit within the large organization has a focus for their donor pool. Lately, I’ve been called in to help resurrect stalled campaigns, and always there is one commonality—the original campaign was designed as a “comprehensive” campaign.  A comprehensive campaign is one where everything, including annual giving, is lumped together as part of the campaign goal.

This must work in certain instances or I can’t imagine why the original consultants—almost always large, national ones—would push this.  But to me, it makes no sense.

Conflating the annual fund with a campaign makes it too easy for people to add a bit to their annual and say, “Yes, I’ve made my campaign commitment.”  It also makes it too easy to take money from the annual and have it go to the campaign.  In either case, both lose.

Instead, ensure that everyone understands the difference between annual fund, which goes to support the organization’s good works now, and the campaign, which is focused and a specific initiative for a period of time.

Beyond that, cultivating a major gift—and gifts to the campaign are mainly major—is different than cultivation for an annual gift.  In the latter, it is something you do, and hopefully they respond positively to, every single year and, consequently, takes one, maybe two intentional interactions.  Major gifts, being for something special, often takes longer.  Longer to explain what and why you are doing what you are doing. And longer because, unlike annual gifts that come from a person’s income, major gifts often come from assets. This takes longer to navigate.

And, perhaps most importantly, in many ways the annual gift is the “must make” gift for many donors. It is what they do to sustain your organization.  The campaign or major gift is special.  It is a thoughtful gift.  Handled correctly, it is also an “and” gift—the one they give in addition to the gift they give every year.


Janet Levine helps to move nonprofits from mired to inspired.  Learn how at  While you are there, sign up for the newsletter and request a free, 30-minute consultation.


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Getting Prospects Ready

Cultivation.  The steps we take to move a prospect toward being a donor (always remembering that the best prospect is an existing donor!).

When I ask new clients or participants in my workshops how they currently cultivate their donors, I hear things like:

  • Send them a newsletter
  • Invite them to an event
  • Take them on a tour

But all these are ways to let people know about you.  Cultivation, on the other hand, should be all about learning (more) about your prospects. So sure, send them a newsletter—then reach out and ask what they thought about the article describing the new program; the pictures of your clients, or the new layout of the newsletter.

Invite them to an event—and make sure that the right people are introduced, have an opportunity to talk, and/or are seated next to your prospect. The right people, of course, depends on who your prospect is.  It could be your CEO, your board president, a client, a program manager.  You need to match the person to the prospect.

But mainly what you do during cultivation is learn as much as you can about your prospects goals and dreams; what motivates them—and yes, what things will turn them off.

The way you do this, of course, is to ask a lot of questions.  But you don’t want your donors to feel as if this is 20 questions (or that they are a teenager being harassed by their helicopter mom).  These need to be conversations and a good way to start a conversation is to share something about you and then asking how that works for them.

For example, instead of just asking “how many kids do you have?  What ages?” Talk about your kids—or your sister’s kids if you have any.  Don’t, of course get off track and end up complaining about your rotten teenager or how awful your daughter’s husband is. Remember, this is about your donor, even if it appears to start with you.

Before you go out and start gathering information, do find out what you already know.  This is the real value of your CMS.  Alas, too many of us do not document our interactions with our prospects and therefore all that valuable information resides somewhere, but not anywhere where you can get to it.

Once you know what you know, the next step is to figure out what you need to know.  How long that list is, will influence how long of a cultivation process you must have.

As you learn about the prospect, you are able to craft a giving opportunity that will bring that donor—and your organization—real joy.

Janet Levine Consulting works to help nonprofits move from mired to inspired.  Learn more at   While there, sign up for our newsletter and do contact us for a free 30-minute consultation.



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