Accentuate the Positive

Why is it that so often we focus on the negative?  I was reading the evaluations of a workshop I recently did and most were really favorable.  But there was one—there is always one—that made me want to pack up my PowerPoints and never, ever do any training again. That’s, of course, the wrong approach.  Sure, I need to read the evaluation and see if there is anything valid that I need to address in future training.  And to ignore that which is more about the evaluator than the evaluatee.  And I need to remember to trust myself.

Too often we get pushed off task by a negative comment or action.  We obsess over the one small piece that went wrong, rather than the 90% that went well.  And even when it all was a total disaster, we forget that failure is the best teacher in the world—and that is not such a tragedy.

Over and over again, I’ve seen my clients—many of whom are one-person development offices—flounder not just because they are so busy (aren’t we all?) but because they missed a deadline, forgot to do something or in their rush to get it done, did it poorly, and can’t get over what they didn’t do right.  Or worse—had a boss or board member chastise them for work not done or not done well.

While blithely ignoring all negative signs is not good, neither is hyper-focusing on them.  Letting these things paralyze you is letting the wrong things win.

Over the years, I’ve learned to take that truly negative word—no—and deal with it.  I can’t change the fact that it makes me feel crummy.  I can’t pretend that the no is not personal—my business, after all, is named for me and, as a sole proprietor it is clear it IS me.  So the no is to me.  Personally.  Fine.

OK, not so fine, but that’s not the point.  I feel crummy.  Sometimes even feel that I may never, ever get another yes (even when I got 3 yeses the day before!).  That, I fear, is immutable.  But how I respond—ah, that is totally up to me.

So, no.  Fine.  In business—and definitely in fundraising—no is not always no.  So I work to find out what kind of “no” this one is.  And learn what I need to do to (perhaps) turn it into a yes.

Likewise with negative comments, bad reviews, anything less than complete adulation.  Take it for what it is worth.  Be honest about it worthiness—I do have too much information I want to share, so sometimes the activities I’ve planned get too short a shrift—and decide what you want to do about it.

That last part is important.  In one of my jobs where I was the one-person band, some of my board members took me to task because I didn’t want to add any more “fundraising” events.  And by virtue of the quote marks, you can imagine why.  I focused instead on individual meetings, focused mailings, lots of cultivation and stewardship efforts.

During the time from when we would have begun planning for the event and the date the event would have happened, I raised a fair amount of money.  But it was less than we probably would have grossed on the event (and more than we would have netted).  Moreover, I still had prospects in the pipeline that I felt confident would give over the next several months; and those who had given were being appropriately stewarded so—unlike many event attendees—would be prospects and donors for us for a long time to come.

Over time, most of my board came to agree with my strategy.  The two that didn’t were vocal and negative about what I was doing.  It gave me pause.  It made me anxious.  And in the end, I stuck to my guns, raising far more for my organization than they had ever raised before.

It reminded me not to focus on the negativity.  Consider it, yes.  Then act in the most positive way possible.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to positively increase their fundraising capacity and develop stronger, more committed boards.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the free monthly newsletter.