Forget About the Money

That may sound like odd advice coming from someone who has spent the last 40 years as a salesperson and fundraiser.  But over those years I have discovered—often to my chagrin—that if I put money first, not much good occurred. I could talk about the jobs I shouldn’t have taken because only the salary was appealing.  I could certainly talk about the development officers who were so focused on the bottom line they forgot about—and lost—the donors.  I could especially talk about the Board members who didn’t help their organizations because they didn’t want to ask their friends and colleagues for a cash gift.

All of these cases would have been better served if the spotlight had been on the truly important element:  building relationships with people who care about the mission of the organization.

Raising money for our organization is something we all—staff and board members alike—understand is necessary.  But one-off gifts do not serve anyone well.  What we should all be developing (and I use that word deliberately) should be those relationships between donors and our organizations.  Our goal should be creating champions who will not only make a gift but through their enthusiasm and interest bring others to join us at the table.

Too often fundraising “training” consists of teaching people about “The Ask” as if that were something that stands alone, divorced from any other activity.  And too often, the focus of the ask is on how large a gift the prospect could make.  That’s called capacity, but the most important part of capacity is inclination—how inclined is someone to make a gift.  And inclination depends on how invested in your organization that person feels.  In short,  “the Ask”—like everything else about fundraising--should be merely a part of a continuum, where a relationship is being nurtured.


Janet Levine is a consultant who works with nonprofit and educational organizations to increase their fundraising capacity.  She is also the co-author of Get Ready, Get Set, Get Grants, a comprehensive guide to writing winning proposals.  Learn more about Janet at her website,  Buy the book at