Can Do

I’m having one of those days when I want to run away, pull my blanky over my head, shut out the world. Nothing is particularly wrong, but on days like today it is so easy to focus only on what isn’t right.

Starting the day with the news adds to my malaise. But it is the things closer to home that sit most heavily. Like the fact that everything takes longer than I anticipated, or costs more or—even worse, delivers less. Particularly on days like today, however, the most insidious is the “can’t do” attitude of some of my clients even some of my best friends.

You know this one. Maybe you are this one, and if so—STOP IT, stop it right now. It’s when no matter what solution, idea, suggestion comes your way, you find all the reasons why you cannot implement it.

I never had much use for Spiro Agnew (the disgraced Vice President of the equally disgraced Richard Nixon), but I share his frustration, as shown in his overly alliterative words : Nattering Nabobs of Negativism Over the years I’ve worked with too many people who would rather moan about the darkness than light that proverbial candle.

The rotten economy seems to be making this tendency even worse. My experience is, of course, anecdotal. The client that tells me they can’t spend any time building a development program because the board won’t do its job. Or the development officer who cannot possibly whatever is recommended because “it just won’t work.” My favorite, though, are the people who are stuck in either “We tried that and it didn’t work,” or the ones who tell you that “this is the way we do it.”

Did you ever notice how self-fulfilling prophecies are? If you think you can’t, usually you can’t. And if you focus on what is not, you somehow never notice what is. Fundraising is not all that much different.

If you really believe that your mission is good, that the organization works well, that you use your money wisely, asking people to support your cause isn’t very difficult. It’s not necessarily easy, mind you, but being positive about your cause goes a long way.

Likewise, focusing on what you can do instead of bemoaning what you can’t really does make a difference. First of all, your energy is now on doing something rather than preventing action from happening—and we all know that the more you do anything (eat, sleep, even donate to charity) the more you tend to do it. As you concentrate on what is possible, you will find that you can actually achieve much more than you thought.

No, I’m not being Pollyanna-ish. The first step is to identify what you are supposed to accomplish. Let’s look, for example, at a worst-case scenario: the task that is impossible to accomplish. Rather than focus on that inevitable end, let’s try to figure out what you can do to at least begin walking up that trail.

Raise $1,000,000 when you have no prospects. Really, you have no prospects. And I agree: You probably cannot raise $1 million with no prospects.

You can get stuck there, or stuck at bemoaning the real fact that your board just won’t or can’t introduce you to people with capacity OR you can start to identify what you can do to begin identifying prospects. Does that mean reading the business section of your local newspaper and sending a congratulatory note to that newly named CEO, inviting her to tour your organization….and then following up to set an appointment? Does it mean getting involved with your city council or local service club?

Yes, it’s a long row to hoe (and it is one of those days where I’m throwing in every metaphor in the book!) but (watch it, here comes another) you do need to that first step on every journey. And it does get easier, more do-able. The first few months you may only identify and get to meet one new prospect, but that one will lead you to others. More, you will get better at figuring out what actions are effective and which ones are not.

So make my day—and yours—and stop being so negative. Throw off your blanky and (last one—I promise) pull your head out of the sand and look to the horizons for all the opportunities you do have. I promise, you’ll be awed and amazed at what you can accomplish step by little step.

Janet Levine is a consultant who works with nonprofits and educational organizations. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at