Fundraising--It's Not a One-Off Thing

If I had a dollar for every time some development director told me that this or that activity was extraordinary, a wonderful experience, a game-changer, I would have many thousands of dollars.  If I had to pay back a dollar for each time this astonishing, fabulous and/or important thing had any real, sustainable impact, I would still have many thousands of dollars.  Why is that? Let me answer that question with a story or two:

My client is jazzed.  He’s been meeting one on one with board members.  “Wow,” he tells me.  “These meetings have been great.”

Now, I hate to be the party pooper, but sometimes, you know, it’s my job.  So I ask, “What makes these meetings great?”

“Well,” he fumfers, “we had good conversations.” Which is a wonderful thing, but what is the outcome?  What are the next steps?  He looks at me and finally says, “I don’t actually have any next steps.  I mean, I guess we just….”he peters out and then shrugs.

So, gentle reader, what would you do?  What would your next steps be?  Maybe more importantly—what should he have done before he made those appointments?

AHA!  Yes.  First he needed to strategize a bit.  What did he want from these meetings?  Why was he spending his (precious) time on them?  Then he could—would—have an idea of what he wanted/needed to do next.

So story number two.  It’s about the organization that does a mailing.  Or maybe it’s the one where they have a gala, a carnival, call a bunch of people.  Doesn’t really matter what the action is for whatever it is, they only do it the one time because it doesn’t succeed!

But success is one of those value-judgment words.   You have to define success.  And for many many things, the first time isn’t so hot.  The second might not be so good, either.

It takes time to build something; lots of repetition before your message is heard.

If there is a magic bullet for fundraising—if there is one thing that you can do that will make you succeed, it is consistency.  Fundraising is, above all, about relationships.  You know this—you’ve heard it often enough!  And relationships take a long time to develop.  But beyond time, they take touches.  If I meet you on Tuesday and we really like each other, we are not going to be friends a year from now despite the time that has elapsed, if we haven’t seen each other, talked to each other, reached out and connected, multiple times between our first meeting and next year.  The rules are no different for fundraising.

So meet with your board members—and tell them from the get go what this meeting is about.  At the end of the meeting, review what you accomplished and what each of you is going to do as a next step.

Or send that direct mail; and then send another one.  Have an event, and give it time to become a signature event.

Mainly, reach out and connect people and organizations with your organization.  Find out what matters to them, how they want to be engaged, what they want from your relationship.  And tell them what you are hoping for.  See if together you can somehow make that all happen.

And know it is not going to happen once;  it will take time and effort.  But it will be worth it.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to build their fundraising capacity.  Learn more at  Email her at to learn how you could work together to build stronger relationships for your nonprofit.