Process--Part of Your Fundraising Success

I’m all for process.  I think it is good to map your course; to chart direction; to have a plan.  But I also am clear that process is not a guarantee. If I do A, I am not ensured that BUntitled will follow.  So yes.  The development process is prospect, cultivate, solicit, steward.  But (a) this doesn’t ensure success and (b) even if you are successful, it probably won’t go the way you planned. That said, without a plan, you will have chaos.  Know where you are headed, but keep your eyes open for better, more interesting roads.  If something doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean you abandon it.  Oh,maybe for this prospect, it’s not something you will do—but for others that might work perfectly well.

What I have learned is that the more I know, the more I understand how things work, the better equipped I am, even when what I am working on doesn’t follow the usual steps. And when things are going as planned, the easier it is more to make it even better.

I’m thinking of the prospect who had never been cultivated in any serious way.  He loved the institution and always, always always made an annual gift.  But that was as far as his involvment went.

In a case of lucky timing, I contacted him with his first ever request to meet someone from the insitution up close and personal.  He said yes.  And he said that he had a problem he hoped I could help to solve.

He had just sold his business for a whole lot of money—and now had way too much appreciated stock in a thriving company.  Could I help?  I could indeed.

A lovely first (planned) gift, which felt like it fell into my lap.  “Now,” I said to the development director who would be managing this account, “your job is to cultivate him in order to ignite his passion and help him to make a follow on gift that will be about his dreams for the institution and just about solving a tax issue.

The development director, alas, didn’t understand process and didn’t have a plan, and in the ensuing months, she almost lost of great donor.  But the person who took over understood the what he had to do, and many years later, this donor is still making both major and annual gifts.

On the other hand, I’ve watched as someone was identified, brought to an event---and then solicited with an ask right out of the textbook:  A little chit chat; the case presented; a warm and fuzzy story told.  Then the ask.  And….shock!  The prospect said no.  I wasn’t surprised.  At no place in this process was there conversation.  No point where the prospect was asked what she wanted and hoped for.  Her vision was never solicited before she was asked for a gift.

Process is a roadmap.  It shows you a way to get from one place to another.  There is much value in that.  But it is not a guarantee.  It is not a surefire thing.  And like in the rest of life, you must always remember that even the best laid plans often go astray.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase fundraising capacity and build stronger, more productive boards.  Find out more at  While there, sign up for her free monthly newsletter.