Fundraising--Better to Plan Than Predict

I’m in Pennsylvania, waiting for Armageddon, or at least the huge storm that is being predicted.  I’m looking forward to the rain-something that happens too rarely in Los Angeles—but hoping that the billion dollars of damage being bandied about in the media doesn’t occur. At my sister’s 70th birthday party (the reason I’m here on the east coast), guests were split between those who were mightily concerned about the storm and those who were sure this was going to be merely a whimper.  It reminded me of a recent meeting where half the board was convinced the upcoming event was going to outraise all known events and those who were sure it would be a failure.

It’s that old glass half full/empty way of looking at the world.  People who do fundraising should be of the full variety—we have to believe that it will all turn out right in the end.  And yet, so many of the fundraisers I know are much more akin to Chicken Little than Pangloss.  Nothing will work; it hasn’t worked before and it won’t work now.  Or it did work—but now, the economy, the donor fatigue, the you name it clearly shows that it won’t work today.

The middle road seems rarely to be taken.

Fundraising, it seems to me, works best when it is planned rather than merely predicted.  When it is looked at from myriad sides and strategies developed; tactics reviewed.  And those strategies and tactics documented.

Documenting the steps you have taken and will take will help to make sure that you end up where you wanted to go.  It will help you to review what has taken place and make an informed decision of what will occur next.  Instead of hoping for the best or fearing the worst, you will have a roadmap to follow and clarity about what should happen.

A major gift officer recently told me that when her (new) boss instructed her to document every step of every fundraising journey, she was appalled.  She was sure it would hinder her progress; prevent her success.

Instead, she has found a freedom she never felt before, and believes she is a much stronger fundraiser.

“Instead of trying to remember what I had done and what follow up steps I had promised, I can spend my time considering if I am taking the best path,” she told me.  “Instead of stultifying it is empowering.”

An interesting side note that may just be a straw in the wind:  At my sister’s party, I asked the doomsayers how they had planned for the storm; what things they were going to do to ensure they could ride it out safely and in relative comfort.  To a person the answer was “nothing.”  Fearing the worst seemed enough.

On the other hand, those who were counting on a benign mother nature were far better prepared.  Most had back up generators, in case the electricity went out; they had food and water, and had agreed on a telephone tree to check on each other.  They didn’t think anything bad was going to happen, but just in case…..

Where is your fundraising program:  Fearing the worst, but refusing to do anything about it; or hoping for the best and doing what you can to ensure that the best is what occurs?

Janet Levine is a consultant who works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity.  Planning is one way she helps her clients to ensure success.  Find out more at  While there, sign up for the free monthly newsletter.