Can't Fundraise--I'm Buried Alive

“I need to reschedule,” the email read.  “I am buried.” All right.  I understand that.  I know what it’s like to have too much on your plate and the sense that you’ll never get it all done.

Except.  Except that the meeting was to help him prioritize—something he has been having problems with.  He tends to do what is in front of his face, instead of what is really important.  Occasionally, those two things are the same; but rarely.

Typically, the work he does is good; it’s just not the work on which he should be focusing.  He is, after all, the development director.  The focus, therefore, should be on things that will identify prospects; actions that will turn them into donors; steps that will keep them as donors and—with work—move them up the giving pyramid.  But it is not this that has him buried.

I have and have had a lot of clients like this.  Good, hard-working people.  But all too often they are working hard at the wrong things.  It’s not always their fault—often it is their boss, the head of the Board, the program director, who misdirects them.

One of my clients lost 6 months of fundraising because she was filling in for the program director.  Important work, yes.  But it was  a solution that almost caused the agency to close its doors.

“In retrospect,” the Executive Director now says, “we should have hired an interim program director and let our development director do her job.”

I’d say it all worked out all right—they learned their lesson.  But they haven’t.  There’s been no time for the board fundraising training, and so the major gift initiative that was going to kick off in January is still just a plan and a lot of tools that could be helpful when there is enough time to focus on major gifts.

Right now, of course, there is no time; payroll has to be met somehow which means crisis fundraising of the crash and burn type, so they are burning out their usual suspects without taking steps to bring more donors to the table, or to ask the usual suspects to support the organization in ways more sustainable and, probably, more interesting and exciting to them.

It’s frustrating.  I see how organizations that commit to increasing their fundraising capacity grow stronger, more supportable.  Their mission comes back into focus—clients are better served.  Instead of being strangled by the here and now, they are energized by the possibilities of tomorrow.

The key, of course, is that commitment.  Fundraising must be what you do, not what gets buried underneath all the other must-do things that somehow land up on your plate.

The easiest way to do that is to create a very specific plan—one that spells out the action items that will be required for you to reach your goals.  And then—well, as that old saying goes:  Plan your work and work your plan.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and keep on top of the work they need to do.  Find out more at