For years I’ve tried to no avail to learn another language. It isn’t so much that I can’t master the grammar or learn the vocabulary (though none of that comes easily to me) but rather because I wouldn’t use what I knew. I wouldn’t speak the language because I couldn’t speak it well.

That was dumb. And I knew—know—it was (is) dumb. And yet I could not make myself speak it because everyone would know I wasn’t perfect.

Perfection. Sigh. When I was a little girl I thought perfectionists were people who did things perfectly and I wanted desperately to do be perfect at something. I haven’t completely outgrown that desperation—or the desire to do things without error. But I have learned that perfection is a pain—and it can also be a barrier to doing anything at all. Hence my mono-linguism, and perhaps, your organization’s inability to actually fundraise.

Over the years, I’ve heard boards and staff tell me that they can’t possibly fundraise yet because:

• We don’t have an elevator speech.
• Our database is messed up.
• We don’t actually have a database.
• No one knows who we are.
• Our website is embarrassing.
• We don’t have any brochures.
• Name your favorite non-fundraising excuse.

In short, things aren’t perfect so we can’t possibly move forward and ask anyone to help us move our mission forward. And speaking of mission, have you noticed that no one ever says, “We can’t ask anyone for money because we aren’t doing good work”?

It seems to me, that if your mission is good and you aredoing good work, you are perfectly situated to raise funds. Yes, you do need to let people know about you—but you really don’t need fancy brochures. Databases are built over time and by themselves, don’t actually fundraise for you. And an “elevator speech” is nothing more than a statement of your passion about your organization.

Good fundraising does rely on a strong database and great communications. But—to coin a cliché—every journey starts with a single step. Begin by identifying five people who you have reason to believe would support your organization. Find out if anyone on your board knows any of those five—and what size gift they think is reasonable as a first gift.

If you can convince your (fellow) board members to set up meetings with these five, you will probably get three to five meetings. If you can’t, count on one. And each time someone is willing to join with you in supporting your organization, add that person to your database. More importantly, ask that person who else you could call on and, by the way, would they be willing to introduce you? Next, add another 5 potential prospects to your list.

Slowly, surely, you will develop that elevator speech. The more you tell others about your organization, the more you will understand what catches their attention and fans their flames of passion.

Your database will get filled with premier prospects and more and more people will know who you are. If you actually start fundraising, you will start to raise funds. And I ask you, what could be more perfect?

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