Meeting Expectations

My sister is the chair of the development committee for a small nonprofit in the education field. She’s been the chair for a couple of years, and to tell you the truth, she’s pretty burnt out.

“How,” she asks me periodically, “can you stand to do this for a living?”

What frustrates her (and frustrates me as well) is the fact that for many people fundraising is what others(namely, you) do—even if they have it as part of their job or volunteer description.

More than that, there is this clear lack of understanding that fundraising takes time. Add these two together and you get zero, as in “we hired/appointed YOU to do our fundraising. Where is the money?”

Ahhh, I see lots and lots of you nodding your heads. You know this; you’ve been there. The big question is how do you manage expectations? The second big question is how do you engage them so they understand that fundraising really is a team effort?

I wish I had a magic bullet to offer you. I don’t. Managing expectations is hard work, but maybe not as hard as engaging your “team.” There are, however, things that will keep your stress level down to a minimum.

The first is for you to have real clarity about what you can accomplish given your resources and available time. In my sister’s case, for example, the development plan called for a certain amount of money to be raised by each board member. When the total goal was not reached (by a very long shot) because most board members did not do their job, my sister felt like a failure. Had she been an employee instead of a volunteer, that “failure” may have had an adverse effect on her job.

Since my sister could not control what board members would or would not do, she needed to clearly identify what she could accomplish. And then she needed to loudly celebrate her successes.

This celebrating serves several purposes. It proclaims that you have done what you said you would. It shows that success is possible. And both those, in turn, act as an impetus to others and can help to motivate them to do their fundraising jobs.

Okay, I get that my sister, as a volunteer, has a lot more leeway. Too often us paid workers have to live with goals that others set for us. Which is why it is vital that you take that goal and create a plan that clearly outlines how you will go about reaching it. If you don’t have a goal, writing a plan to discover your goal is even more important.

This plan needs to be very specific. None of this “Identify prospects, cultivate and solicit” stuff. Remember—a big piece of what you are doing is managing expectations of others. So, if you are supposed to raise $1,000,000 and your organization has never raised more than $375,000, well you may just have an expectation gap.

Your plan would show where you want to get, and then what resources you have to get there. That means you will need to make some assumptions about how many prospects at what levels are necessary. Then you should show how many prospects at those levels you already have and where they are on the cultivation (for this next gift) continuum.

Your plan will also take into consideration how and where you can find new prospects and how long it would take to turn those prospects into donors. What are the steps you need to take? What are the tools you need in order to take those steps?

By now you should realize that your plan may have a hidden agenda. If you are expected to move from $375,000 to $1,000,000 and you do not have the appropriate resources to be successful, where can you get with what you have? Your plan needs to show that. For example, if given the donors you have and the prospects you’ve already identified and begun to cultivate you feel confident that you could raise $500,000 you would show that in your plan.

To reach the next $500,000 (or whatever dollar amount is your nut) might take introductions from your board and/or additional staff (or more events, direct mail campaigns, whatever) you would clearly delineate that in your plan.

As you work through your plan, you need to keep the Board, your boss, whoever, informed. The best way to do this—and the way that will get heard—is to show your successes, and be very clear what it took to be successful.

If the $50,000 gift you just got came about because your Board chair introduced you to one of her clients, make sure the rest of the Board knows that. If it came from an existing donor, they need to hear about the donor’s history with your organization.

If, however, your search for new prospects is still in the search phase, get that message across. But no whining. Report that you have been to three chamber mixers and have collected 45 business cards. You’ve contacted 25 of those folks, had a meeting with 3, and think that perhaps one of them will—eventually—donate.

In this way, you can educate and explain without seeming to that fundraising takes time. It is about relationships. And those relationships need to be nurtured.

And here we are, back to the point that the more they do their part in fundraising the more successful your fundraising program will be, and the more likely that everyone’s expectations will be met.

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