Fundraising Creatively, Responsively and Effectively

I love to think of myself as a free-spirit.  Someone who “goes with the flow.”  Creative, responsive, not bound by rules. The reality is something quite different.

The more I understand what I need to do and how I am going to achieve what I want to accomplish, the more creative and responsive I can be.  I actually spend twice as much time thinking about how I getting where I want to go as I do getting there.  Of course, if I didn’t do that, it’s very likely I would be arriving somewhere else entirely.  Which, I agree, isn’t always a bad thing, but it’s not what I was intending.

Organizations that will plan their programs carefully and thoughtfully often lose their care and thoughtfulness when it comes to fundraising.  I have clients who balk at putting names down on a prospect list—and really fight me as we work to identify what that prospect might be interested in and how much support the prospect can and would be inclined to give.  “It’s all in my head,” one told me.  “I don’t need to write it down.”  Maybe.  But we all have memory failures and worse—what happens when that person is no longer with the organization?

Events bring out the worst behaviors.  It’s as if the event itself is the goal, rather than a starting point for donor cultivation.

“The event is in three weeks.  We don’t have time to consider what we are doing the week after that!”

Do they not get that three weeks after the event is already too late for follow up steps?

Developing a plan—not a template, but an actual blueprint of what you will be doing and when—is the most important thing you can do to ensure fundraising success.  And yes, that plan really does need to be down in black and white—on computer if not on an actual piece of paper.

For each thing that you propose to do, have a goal—the thing or things you want to accomplish.  And outline each step.

So great, you want you want to get a gift of $10,000 from the Smiths.  Unless the Smiths are well cultivated and the next step really is to just ask them for the gift, you will need to plan how you are going to get the Smiths from here to there.  And then, once you reach that goal, what is the next step to reach the next goal you should already be thinking about.  All this may not appear immediately on your plan—steps and next steps will be added as you move forward.

For larger scale things—an event, an annual appeal—make sure you are considering more than just financial goals.  Yes, of course you want to raise $250,000 from this year’s gala.  Don’t we all?  But surely, that’s not the only purpose for your event.  How many new major donor prospects do you want to uncover?  Who do you want to recognize – and, by the way, start the cultivation process for their next gift?  Who might you want to recruit for your Board?  What organizations do you want to convince to sponsor your event next year?

The more you block out what you need to be doing monthly, weekly, daily, the freer you will be to see unexpected opportunities and new, creative ways to accomplish all that you will be accomplishing.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and be more creative and responsive to their donors and prospects.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the free monthly newsletter.