STILL Too Busy to Fundraise

My client was stressed.  Too much to do, too little time, and now something else has been thrown on his plate. “I can barely do what I am supposed to do,” he moaned (but not in a bad way).  “How can I can add this to my workload?”

The truth is, he can’t.  But every day, you are asked to do the impossible.  A big part of that is that there is a real misunderstanding of what it takes to raise money, in any way.

By all measures, fundraising is a very personnel intensive activity.  Whether you are raising funds via grants, events, mass methods of reaching lots of people, or one on one cultivation and solicitations, it all takes time.  And if you are a small office, none of these are or activities, they are all and ones.

All that would be enough to make a grown person cry (or at least end each day in a fugue of exhaustion).  But—and here is where it gets insidious—for most development directors, this is only the tip of the iceberg.  They are expected to do oh so much more—up to and including keeping the records of those gifts they manage, in their copious spare time, to get.

The problem, unsurprisingly, is worse the smaller the organization.  Ironically, this means that the less funds you are raising (generally from fewer people and/or organizations) the busier you are, and less fundraising you can accomplish.

Ideally, you could simply go to your boss (be that the Executive Director or the chairman of the Board) and explain the facts of life.  But that, I fear, rarely works.  They simply do not get it.

So the answer is you.  Yes, you.

You need to get clarity on what it is that you need to accomplish—what are the things that (a) will make a real difference in your organization and (b) you will be judged on.

I’d like to say that (a) is more important than (b) but honestly, if you are doing great things for your organization and your boss or the board only care that you are not doing other things, you won’t be doing good things for your organization for very long.  Or as a good friend of mine is fond of saying, “It’s not enough to know there is landscape out there, you need to be able to read it well and see where the hidden dangers are.”

Little things will make a difference.  A client was frustrated.  She had committed to calling lapsed donors as a way to bring them back into the fold.  Letters, she had discovered, had a really low effective rate.  I suggested a more personal touch, and her first forays into that surprised and pleased her.  So she asked her assistant to pull a list of donors who had given but not in the past two years.

Four weeks later, she was still waiting for the list.  Not that her assistant wasn’t working on it, but finding phone numbers was proving to be hard.  I suggested that she ask her assistant to give her those that had phone numbers, and then each week to do 10 and give those to her.

Where phone numbers were impossible to find, I suggested a very personal letter—handwritten if her handwriting was up to it—to those lapsed donors.

“Duh,” she said.  “Why didn’t I think of getting the list in pieces—I’m not going to be calling them all at once.”

But she is thick into it all and I have the luxury of standing back and appearing to be more brilliant.  That is the real value of a consultant.

Look at the things you are not getting to.  What smaller steps can you break these into so you can get moving.  You don’t have to go from no personal appointments to 10 a week—four a month would be good;  even one would be a start.

Being too busy is just the way of the world now.  Your job is to ensure that you are too busy doing the right tings and not spinning your wheels on activities that do not matter.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase fundraising capacity, build more committed boards and making staff more effective. Learn more at  While there, subscribe to her monthly newsletter