Keeping it Simple

A lot of my time in spent thinking about and helping my clients become more productive in their approaches to fundraising. I call this blog Too Busy to Fundraise because I’ve found that many people who have development responsibilities never seem to find the time to do the things that fundraising requires. I know. I’ve been there.

Oftentimes—and especially at times like now where the economic outlook is anything but good—we look for quick fixes to fundraising, as if some special technique will painlessly raise funds. We want something that will work, as if that something could do it without any help from us.

Making the time to fundraise, therefore, is the first step to actually bringing in gifts. The second step is to use your time and your resources wisely. That means keeping things simple.

That should be easy enough, but somehow too often, what should be a productive way to raise funds and increase your prospect pool gets turned into something that takes more time and effort than it warrants.

Like many consultants, I often remind my clients that the Board is their best fundraising magic bullet. This is especially true for smaller nonprofits with one or no dedicated fund development staff person. But most board members do not feel comfortable asking their friends for gifts. Since the actual solicitation is the last step and only one part of fundraising, I encourage board members to be actively involved in the beginning part of the process. I believe that board members are most effective at identifying potential donors and in introducing those prospects to the organization (and vice versa).

One really nice and easy way to do that is for the board member to host a small gathering, either at the organization or in his or her home. And by hosting I mean that the board member draws up the invite list from his or her personal or business rolodex, sends out the invitations and pays for whatever refreshments will be on tap. I also recommend that we, yes, keep this simple. A wine and cheese, coffee and cake, finger sandwiches. Nothing elaborate; nothing expensive.

Ditto the event itself. It’s meant to be intimate, where the board member can tell friends and colleagues why this organization is near and dear to his or her heart. The executive director or another staff member tells—briefly—what the organization does and shares some success stories. And either the host or someone else asks the attendees to “Join with me in supporting this wonderful organization.” Pledge cards are handed out, and the event is essentially over. Appropriate follow up with every person invited, of course, is necessary.

Simple, right? Doesn’t cost the organization much. And brings new people to the table. Except that I see too many folks turning this simple and effective event into a major production.

Suddenly, centerpieces or a particular color tablecloth with matching napkins are deemed necessary to the success of the gathering. The host decides that the attendees need “favors” or that a drawing would be a good idea, and now the scramble is on to find the goodies (and who is going to ask for them?). And rapidly this becomes a big deal and not particularly productive at all.

Once again, we find ourselves Too Busy To Fundraise. Too involved in turning a simple idea into a time-consuming monster. So, STOP! Re-think. Go back to the basics. Keeping it simple will—I can guarantee it if you actually do it—make your fundraising more successful and all those involved, more productive.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at