Making the Most of A Bad Situation

Three weeks after we came home the mythologizing began. A few months after that, the
(yet another ) miserable apartment became the thing of stories.

Like the placein Rome where, if you didn’t squeegee the walls daily, moss would grow. What was awful,  just becomes a memory–mostly a funny one. The streetlamp that lit up our bedroom, making it so much brighter than our living room where reading, except on our iPads, was impossible. But we could bothlie in bed and read a book solely by the light coming through from the street. 

And so, maybe not next year, but certainly by the one following, even though we both swear we are done with these trips that are not vacations but work, and really not fun (though we have fun) while we are doing them, we just may, as we did this year, forget the reality and only focus on what the reality has become.   And, despite our best intentions, we just might say yes one “last” time. 

Work is often like that.  One little thing can make a good job feel bad…and a bad one feel good. The problem comes when you work on the immediate without considering the longer view.  

I’ve done that.  My first fundraising job was one that I loved. Then there was a bad bump.  Instead of trying to work it out–trying to make it better, I jumped into another position. It was a better title, and a lot more money – both good reasons to say yes. But I was too focused on what was currently wrong with my situation to understand the new one. And, for me, it turned out not to be a good move–something I should have seen before I leaped.  

At least I was being proactive. So many people are in bad situations and don’t do much to rectify what is wrong until something blows up and they have to start thinking about next steps. Those steps could be looking for a new job or they could be considering how to change the climate where they are. Either is good. But, sometimes, connected to neither of these, things start getting better. 

That can be terrific–if you are being gimlet-eyed and seeing what is really going on. Too often, however, we are not. Things are working now–that’s good and you keep doing whatever it is you had been doing– and soon the good thing is back to the thing that wasn’t very good before. Worse, you’ve stopped all the proactive things you were doing or about to start, and are back to square one–or perhaps even a bit behind that

Mythologizing is fine, if you keep your wits about you. 

My neighbor worked in the same company at the same job for almost 30 years. The thought of that could make me crazy. But while her title remained the same, she was very good at shaping the things that made up her job to suit what she wanted them to be.  What her job ended up being was very different from what it had started out to be. It took vision—seeing what was important to her and how she could convince her boss that this was good for the organization.  And that took negotiation.

Good negotiating requires that you are clear on what you want, what would be acceptable, and what is the point at which you walk away.  Smart work requires nothing less.  Consider what you really, really want your job to be.  Think about your current situation and be realistic at how close that comes. If you are looking for another job, be very clear what you want that job to look like. And then–because nothing is ever perfect–get real and strip it down to what is acceptable, both for your current situation as well as for another job altogether.  Don’t undersell yourself, however. Think also about the point at which you would walk away– from where you are and where you might be considering where you might go. Knowing where that point is an be critical.   

This is your (one) life; make sure it’s as good as it can be. 

Janet Levine can help you make the most of your job and of your fundraising. Learn more at While there, sign up for the newsletter and do arrange for a free, 30-minute consultation




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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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