Fundraising For A Change

Change.  There is something about that word that makes many people uncomfortable.  Over the past several years, economic woes have caused nonprofits to lament their dwindling fundraising results, and yet too many organizations are loathe to fundraise differently. Unless you are raising so much more money than you need to operate and have enough to build new programs, expand old ones and put money into a reserve account, there really is no good reason not to be considering how you might be doing it better.

The first step in that is to take a good hard look at what you are doing.  But first, throw out your preconceptions and toss off all defensive posturing.  Your gala may be bringing in 80% of your charitable gifts and your board probably does love it.  Recognizing that, however, it has stagnated for the past three years doesn’t mean that you have to abandon or even change it.  It may mean that you should also be doing something else.

Oh I know—there are only one or two of you—time is already hard to come by. How could you possibly do something new?

Well, is there something you can stop doing?  For example, how much time do you really need to spend on the menu or the decorations?  For years, I simply left those decisions to the caterers.  Not only did I not have any disasters, I always got compliments for how good everything looked and tasted.  In truth, I found that by giving them my trust to do their job, they took that extra step.

Letting things like this go—or delegating them to others—can add hours to your productive work time.

Now think about things you should start doing.  One thing I would suggest is to start thinking long-term. Stop thinking only about the gap between what you need now and what you have now and visualize where you would like to be five years from now.  What do you need to start doing today to get there?  For example, developing a vibrant legacy program.  Most likely, you won’t see the results for years.  But that will be true whenever you start it.

So what things will you need to continue doing?  Yes—those things that bring in money today.  Keep it up, but perhaps refine what you are doing.  If you only do one appeal a year, think about adding two or three more—but make those more targeted.

Then start newer programs with baby steps.   A major gift program, for example, doesn’t have to enter your world full blown.  Can you identify three people or organizations that are not currently giving to their capacity?  Can you begin the process with them and meet face to face at least once with each over the next two months?  Can you (and your board) identify 5 new prospects that—over time—you believe could become major donors?

Creating a brand new fundraising program means building on whatever you are doing, not abandoning it.  It means opening doors, not slamming them shut.  It means embracing change and understanding that it is a word with many synonyms from modification (those first baby steps) to revolution (doing things totally differently) to transformation (that vision-thing).

Janet Levine is a consultant who works with organizations, helping them to transform and grow their fundraising capacity, build stronger boards, and more confident staff.  Learn more about her services  at