The Specialty is Fundraising

On Thursday I am teaching a class focused on fundraising for education foundations.  Last week I spoke with an arts organization who wanted to increase their fundraising capacity and didn’t hire me because I wasn’t an “arts organization specialist.”  I’ve been hired by schools who think I can help them because I know about education having worked in the field for years.  I’ve both gotten and not gotten jobs with health related organizations because I did/did not have experience with organizations exactly like them.  And once I get a job or two with some specific subsector, others start coming out of the woodwork.  Recently I got a job with a homeless provider because, in their words, I’ve “worked with several homeless groups.” I don’t get it.  My area of expertise is fundraising.  As part of that, I have a lot of understanding and skill in helping make boards successful fundraising entities.  It doesn’t matter whether the nonprofit is a hospital or a pet shelter; honestly and truly—fundraising is fundraising, and board development is board development.

That is not to say that there are not unique challenges or that each entity doesn’t do certain things differently.  But there is no specific “arts fundraising,” or “fundraising for foods banks,” that differs for fundraising for any other type of organization.

It is all about relationships.  And it is contingent on consistency and clarity.  Learn to tell your story well—and remember to listen to your prospects.  Ask them questions, and show them how they and their dreams fit with you and yours.

Know what your organization needs—and what impact this will have.  Show how support has made a difference.  And listen—again—to what your prospects say.

Understand who they are.  Help them to understand what you do and why it matters.  Keep them close—and keep them informed about how they have made a difference.

And when those prospects become donors, thank them.  Then thank them again.  And keep showing them what their support does; what it means; why it matters.  Keep listening to them, and find out how they feel, what they experience.  If they are happy, ask them how you can help them to spread this happiness to others in their circles of influence.  If they are not happy, find out why and do what you can to fix that.

Use their gifts wisely and well, and show them what they have supported.  Show them what else they could support and dream with them about what their support might do.

Remember to thank them for being a part of your organization and connect them with others—clients, staff, volunteers, other donors.  Make them a part of the family, but always treat them like honored guests.

Make sure that the work your organization does is worthy of their support.  Understand that you won’t be a priority for everyone; but for where you are, make them feel that they have prioritized wisely.

Be consistent with the things you do—both for fundraising and in your programs—and consistently keep your prospects and donors informed.

Above all, remember that people give to people and the closer you get to the people who give, the more you will be successful.

Janet Levine works with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping them to increase fundraising capacity and build more effective boards.  She is proud of the diversity of her client base.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the free monthly newsletter.