The Hard Work of Fundraising

It was a job I didn’t get.  The organization, not a startup but one that had never done any serious fundraising, was feeling the crunch.  They needed, it was decided, someone to help them create a fundraising plan.  That’s what I do, so I responded to the RFP and was pleased to get a call. The interview, however, wasn’t quite so pleasing.

They were disappointed that I didn’t have a rolodex to share.

They had heard from another consultant that prospecting would be easy—do a wealth screen.  But of what? I asked.  You do have a few names but they are mostly people who came to your event because of the relationship they had with your honoree.  Will she open the door for you should one of these people rank high on the wealth screen?

No, of course not.

The next question was, or should have been, obvious—so without a development director (or even with one, for that matter), once these people are identified as having wealth, who will qualify them for the more important aspect—inclination?

My questions fell on deaf ears.  It was far more appealing to run a list and get the names of high wealth people, than to do the hard work of identifying and cultivating those to whom you (“you” being board and staff) have access.

And then there was the question of the plan.  I don’t write a plan.  I work with a team from the organization so we can develop an appropriate plan.  Appropriate in that it will work with their assets and resources.  A plan that acknowledges challenges and considers how to meet those challenges.  A plan that doesn’t just define a technique, but identifies how that technique will be put to work at that specific organization.

And once the plan is developed, we chart how best to implement it.  Along with that, there are metrics to help ensure that we are working the plan—and that the plan, as it emerges from the white room of our planning process, still makes sense.

Inevitably there will be glitches; tweaks that must be made.  A learning curve for board and staff—not just how to implement, but how to measure, and how to work together toward this common fundraising end.

So they hired the firm that told them that wealth screens and analytics would solve their problems, and the plan they would deliver would be “turn-key.”  And everyone was happy.  Until it became clear that the turn-key plan wouldn’t work itself, and the list of wealthy individuals was going stale.

Two years later, the crunch having gotten tighter, I got a call.  Could we meet?   Of course.  But, I warned them, I still don’t have any magic bullets beyond commitment and consistency.  I still would not supply the answers but, rather, help to ask the right questions so together we could come up solutions to their problems.

That was fine, I was told.  They had learned that fundraising is more about relationships than lists—and that relationships take work.  They had learned that the easy way was not necessarily the smart way.

This second meeting was far different from the first.  Instead of wanting to hear what I could do for them, we talked about what their roles were, and how we could partner to first develop and them strive to meet their goals.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits to help them increase their fundraising capacity through commitment and consistency.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the free newsletter.