What Keeps You Too Busy to Fundraise?

Recently, I was preparing a workshop called (cleverly) Never Too Busy To Fundraise. It was geared for small shops and the original intent was to focus on those tried and true best practices that, if applied, almost guarantees some fundraising success. But that “if applied,” kept grabbing at me.

I realized that, for most of us, it’s not so much that we don’t know what to do, or even how to do it (though more of us suffer from the latter than the former). The real problem is that we are, literally, too busy to fundraise. There are too many things on our plate, too many competing priorities.

In my last two jobs I was always frustrated by the myriad meetings I had to attend. In one of these jobs, after I blocked out all my “required” meetings, I had about 35 minutes a week unscheduled. While my job description had 40% of my time dedicated to fundraising, in reality, I only had about .02% of the week available to focus on raising funds. Worse, whenever a meeting was cancelled and I miraculously found myself with an hour or so to spare, I found myself going into panic mode. What should I do? So many things to accomplish. Too little time. And before I knew it, 45 minutes were gone, and I hadn’t gotten anything done.

As I thought about these jobs, and the upcoming workshop, I realized that there were two things that were vital to a successful fundraising program.

The first is a commitment by you, your board, your boss to the fact that fundraising is an significant part of your job. Note that something written in your job description does not equal a commitment. A commitment means that time for fund development is carved out and some of your responsibilities may have to be delegated elsewhere.

The second is a plan to incorporate fundraising into all those other elements and to fit in the time you’re dedicating to this function.

At my workshop, I asked the students to write down the things that kept them from fundraising, how important those things were to the success of their job, and what they might be able to do about those things. If you are consistently too busy to fundraise, try this exercise. And be honest. You don’t have to show this list to anyone. In fact, several of the people who took that particular workshop later confessed that if they were truthful, the biggest impediment to fundraising was their fear. Sometimes one person told me, she actually booked staff meetings in order to avoid making a phone call or writing an email to a prospective donor.

There’s no shame in that. Just understand what your barriers are, and then look at ways to overcome them.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at jlevine@levinemorton.com. Her online grantwriting class is available at www.levinemorton.com/classes.html.