Making the Mundane New

Two months ago, I broke my wrist.  My right wrist, and yes, I am right-handed.  I won’t go into the gory details of trying to avoid surgery, having surgery, casts, discomfort, the joy and pain of not being able to drive. What I want to talk about is how the new went from being a challenge to becoming mundane, and what that means for your organization.

So first there was trying to eat.  Left-handed. Not a pretty picture.  Not the world’s most fastidious eater to begin with, I made my 4-year-old twin grandchildren seem decorous at table.  Everything was hard.  Add to that the fact that I couldn’t cut anything, and hard truly was difficult.  And messy.

And then, seemingly suddenly, left handed was just the way I ate.  Still couldn’t (can’t) cut anything, but I can get it on a fork or a spoon without much chaos.

There was doing my work—the part that takes place at the computer.  Since my cast was removed a few days ago, I am back to typing two handed, but for 7 weeks, I only had one hand, and the mouse was being manipulated (poorly) by my left hand!

That was more difficult than eating and yet, in the first week, I was able to put together handouts, a keynote presentation, a proposal and two reports. It took a lot of time, there were interesting typos, but because I was so slow, I had time to think about what I was doing and that caused some changes—good ones, I believe—to my thinking.

Not driving—well in LA that can be a problem, but truth to tell, I’m dreading getting back behind the wheel.  My days have felt slower, more relaxing, and much more productive.

In short, I’ve had to create new neural networks for doing what I’ve done without much thought. Now, suddenly, everything took consideration.  Everything required me to think about what I was doing, why I was doing it, and of course, how I would get it done.

That’s what change does. Instead of just doing what you’ve always done, try doing things differently—or doing different things. Yes!  It will be uncomfortable.  Perhaps even fraught.  Things won’t move as smoothly.  You will have to think about what you are doing.  That may make you consider why you are doing it.  And you may have to make a plan for how to get it done.

As my wrist heals, I find myself thinking, should I continue doing this left-handed or go back to using my right hand?  Can some of the adaptations I make to accommodate one-handedness make what I now can do two-handed better?  Can I incorporate the really important lessons I learned—taking my time, considering what I was doing, finding the best way to tackle something—into what I am able to do now?

In short, can I continue to challenge myself to keep trying new ways so things don’t become mundane and I revert again to doing what I’ve always done because, well, that’s just the way I do it.


Janet Levine Consulting helps nonprofits move from mired to inspired.  Let her inspire your organization and your board.  Check out her website, or contact her to learn how she can help you discover the new.

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Chasing Your Tail

Meet Tramp, the newest canine member of our family.  Like all our dogs, he’s sweet, funny, and—hey, he is a border collie—smart.  Unlike any of our other dogs, he is also a tail chaser.  I can’t tell if he thinks this is a great game—he also growls at his left foot and lunges for it,then pretends to be wrestling—or if, from time to time, he sees his tail from the corner of his eye and, not recognizing it as part of him, he tries to catch it.  No matter.  It’s cute watching a dog chase his tail.  Not so cute when it’s a nonprofit with an important mission and serious work to accomplish.

Last night, as I watched my pup     going round and round, attempting to catch something that would always be just beyond his reach, I had flashes of my he clients I’ve had—have—who are very Tramp-like in their actions.

The client who hired me to develop and help implement a comprehensive fund development plan.  We started by assessing the organization ‘s fundraising capacity. As partif that, we looked at the fundraising they were doing, most of which was random and bringing in very little money.  The one constant was an annual gala that, she insisted, brought in half their annual budget.  And, if you looked only at revenue in, she wasn’t far off.  But—and this is a big but—those gross revenues are not what you end up having to spend.

From those gross revenues you must subtract expenses.  And that should include the  salaries of those who work on the gala, appropriately adjusted.  That means if I spend 25% of my time for three months on the gala, then 25% of my monthly income (yes including benefits) multiplied by 3 should be added to the expenses.

Most organizations don’t do that.

Fine.  Let’s just focus on direct expenses.  In my client’s case, that was equal to 57% of the gross income.  For every $1 raised, 57 cents was already spent on the gala!  And, again, we are not considering salaries or opportunity costs 

I will stop ranting now.  Except that as soon as we finished the assessment and were creating the plan to actually raise what was needed, she said that we would have to put everything on the back burner for now because—yes! you are not surprised—for the next 6 weeks she would be entirely focused on the gala.

The gala that doesn’t meet your fundraising needs ends?  I asked.  The one we are looking to either enhance so it makes fiscal sense or replace with something that will be more profitable?

I can’t think about that now, she said. We need the money the gala generates. So, 100% of my time must be on chasing my tail. 

Just like another client who couldn’t take the time to call the 3 people we had identified as her most likely larger givers and who we had reason to believe would, if asked by the CEO, make a gift in excess of $5,000. The reason she couldn’t bring in at least $15k?  She was working on a grant which, if awarded, would provide $5,000 that was essentially a pass through as it could only be used as an award for a volunteer.  

Why are you spending time on this, I asked.  I thought she would talk about the importance of the volunteer program. But, no. They were in dire need of bringing in $4,800 to meet payroll. So, instead of doing the work that would most likely provide what she needed, she felt it would be prudent to simply chase her tail.

Janet Levine helps tome her nonprofit clients from mired to inspired–and to stop change their tails.  Learn how she can improve your effectiveness at  

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Meeting Your Fundraising Challenge

Typing with only my left hand is hard.  But teaching dictation software to understand your speech patterns takes a lot of time. As does re-working how you write.  Speaking and typing are, I think, different.  Any way I slice this, recovering from a broken right (my dominant hand) wrist will be a challenge.

Challenge, I tell my clients, is a good thing.  And, in truth, I am finding that it is making me think deeply about a number of things. Like what is important to me. What work makes me happy.  And what work I really no longer want to do.

For me, as a consultant, every no—on my side or because a potential client doesn’t take that last step, at least with me—means finding other yeses.  This has been such a gift as I have the luxury—not being able to drive frees up hours every day—not just what but how I can best get where I want to go. But perhaps I should edit that word luxury and change it to necessity.

For you, as a person responsible for raising funds for your nonprofit, this is critical.  Looking at what you are doing and being really honest about the effectiveness of the way you are going about your work can be a shock. “Oh wait, I just spent 6 months of my time that netted less than my annual salary,” should spur you to think how you can now use that event to increase donor connection—and contributions. And to consider how you can be more efficient for the next event.

More to the point, picture fundraising at your organization writ large.  Are you the hamster running endlessly in your wheel and not getting where you need to go?  If so, what has to change?

First, consider where—precisely—do you need to head?  Bring in more money, of course.  But does that require (check all that apply!):

  • Enlarging your number of donors?
  • Increasing average gift size?
  • Decreasing the cost to raise a dollar?
  • Lowering attrition rates?
  • Focusing (more or even at all) on relational fundraising, which brings in more dollars?
  • Stop blaming your board for not fundraising?
  • Start training the board on how they can realistically participate (hint:  hire me)

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

Now that you know what, let’s consider how.

To do what you need to do—what must you start doing?

And to have the time to start new things, what will you have to stop doing?  Keeping in mind, of course, the things that, regardless, you must continue to do.

Armed with this knowledge, you are well on your way to reaching your destination.

Janet Levine moves nonprofits from mired to inspired—increasing fundraising capacity and results.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the newsletter and do arrange for a free, 30-minute phone or Zoom consultation.

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The Why of a Retreat

As my husband reluctantly got in his car to head to the annual departmental retreat, I asked what issues were they going to grapple with and—hopefully—at least set on a path to resolution.

He stared at me with his gorgeous (to me, anyway) blue eyes as if I had lost my mind.

“We will be talking about exactly the same things we talk about at every department meeting,” he said tersely.  “With exactly the same  non-results.  And we’ll listen to boring reports that will try to frame last year as far more positive than it was.”

No wonder he was so reluctant. 

I’d love to think that his department is particularly dysfunctional, but it’s not. So many of the nonprofits I know have the same kind of retreats. What I often call the let’s not rock the boat retreat, even if rocking the boat is exactly what is needed.

A retreat should be an opportunity to break from the daily routine and encourage participants to look up, see a big picture and think in new and strategic ways.

To do that, the focus needs to be on the important—that which truly impacts what you do, and, unless it is something critical, you must push pash the stuff that always demands attention, whether it is really what needs to be considered.

While retreats don’t have to be about strategic planning, they should always be strategic.  Where do we need to be heading—generally,in this specific area, in this new way?

If there is a problem, what is it, really? Now let’s focus on how we can solve it.

Having a retreat just because we should is as bad as not having a retreat because no one wants to commit the time.  

Before you schedule a retreat consider what you want to happen at that retreat—and remembering that there should be follow on work will be laid out. Retreats are wonderful for building a stronger team, mapping out a new path, stepping back and getting a new perspective.  They can renew, refresh, re-energize your boarding/or your staff.

Whatever your reasons for retreating from the every day, it will be more effective and impactful if you clearly identify your purpose and create a roadmap for getting where you want to go.

Janet Levine works to move nonprofits from mired to inspired–often by facilitating board and staff retreats.  Learn more at

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Standing Still Means Moving Backward

The topic was fundraising. Specifically, how to be more effective, efficient and increase your fundraising results. We talked about changes in the sector and changes beyond the sector that affected how we raise funds.

“I guess we are just different,” said one Development Director. “All we do is one direct mail piece a year, and we bring in $342,000. So we don’t need to do anything else.”

And how, I asked, are you increasing your prospect pool?

She said that they weren’t. After all, they brought in $342,00 every year. That was what their budget called for.

If I could have raised an eyebrow—a skill I don’t possess—I would have.

What was said might have been true, if the organization was good being where it’s been and existing on less buying power for the same dollar amount.  And if—a big if—no donor leaves or makes a smaller gift.

I’m not one to say that every nonprofit has to grow. Being the size you are may be right for you. But even if that is true, the reality is that your budget must grow.

In 1970, when I married to my first husband, we believed that if we could have a combined income of $20,000 a year—in New York City—we would be in hog heaven. Imagine what that would get you today.

The point, of course, is that even if what you are doing seems to suffice, if you just want to stand still, you must do a great deal more than you are currently doing. And you must start on that road today.

Janet Levine works with your nonprofit to ensure your fundraising isn’t stagnating.  Learn how she can help you go from mired to inspired at .


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