Showing Up

My husband, a college professor, tells his students that 50% of the battle (for good grades) is just showing up in class.  Of course, many of them don’t—and year after year after year, he is proven right.  The students with the lowest grades at the end of the semester are almost always the students with the worst attendance.  Those who end up with A’s and B’s are pretty universally the ones who came to class. Being successful at work is the same.  It’s not just sitting at your desk, of course; it is being present and doing the necessary things.

It’s those “necessary things” that often throw us.  I often think that for many nonprofits, the development office is actually “the place for everything we don’t know what to do with.”  And because most of us who go into development are generally fixers and conciliators, we tend to jump right in and do what needs doing—even if it is not something that development needs to do.  Even if—as it so often does—it takes precious time away from what we should be doing:  developing relationships with donors and prospective donors and working with our Boards to raise money.

It is so easy to be pulled in different directions.  I cannot tell you how often I (still) end up doing everything but what I really need to do.  All the times, in other words, that I simply didn’t show up where I needed to be.  Sometimes, of course, the real issue is:  Where, exactly DO I need to be?  Where is where?

I see this so often with small organizations (and, as a sole proprietor, I am one with many of my clients).  There is so much to do, so many balls to keep in the air—who has time to breathe, let alone take a deep breath and try to figure out if you are spending your time in the right place(s).  And yet, if you don’t really think things through, you end up heading east when you wanted to go west.

For fundraising, it is often that the annual fund and/or the big special event takes up so much time.  And while these are important to your development program, they aren’t (or shouldn’t be) your entire program.

No matter how much we want things to be more equal, the truth is that they are not.  And that means that in all areas, 80-90% of the money you raise will come from 10-20% of the donors to that type of giving as well as to the entire program.  So, for your annual campaign or your gala, a small percent of the donors/ticket buyers/sponsors will be responsible for a disproportionate amount of the money raised.  You should be spending more time with those people than you do with those who provide a smaller percent.

Likewise, major gifts.  The smaller number of people who can make a major gift are likely—if you have a robust major gift program—to be responsible for a larger (the largest, most likely) pot of money. You should be showing up for them.

Janet Levine is a consultant, coach and trainer who works with nonprofits and educational organizations helping them to show up and raise more money.  Learn more about her and her services at