Clarity of Purpose

“It was the best piece of advice I got,” the board member told me.  “It completely changed the way I approached fundraising.”  Actually, she amended, “it helped me to approach fundraising.” The advice?  Nothing magical.  Simply to be very clear about your purpose when reaching out to someone.  If you want to ask them to buy a ticket to your gala, make a gift, consider making a gift, make sure they know before they say yes to anything that the purpose of your call or the lunch you want to set up is fundraising.  Or to tell them about the organization.  Whatever your purpose, make sure you share it.

But, you might be thinking, if I tell them I am fundraising, they will probably say no.  So?  No, except in certain circumstances like dating, is not always no.  It’s a great opportunity to dig deeper.  As in:

“Hi Sally.  This is Janet.  I’m wondering if we could get together in the next week?  I want to talk with you about the organization I’m involved to see if what we do would be of enough interest to you that you would consider supporting us.”

“Umm….next week is not so good.” I then ask when would be good and get a runaround, leading me to deduce that she really doesn’t want to get together to talk about the organization or consider a possible gift.  So I say that—“I’m getting the feeling, Sally, that you really don’t want to hear about the organization. “

She’ll either explain—typically that she is involved with too many organizations—or tell me that no, the problem is that work is overtaking her this month. Whatever, I now have some more information about this prospect.

If, on the other hand, she says yes, I don’t have to obsess about how I am going to introduce the subject—it’s already been introduced and she has already said yes.

Being clear about your purpose goes beyond that first meeting.  Every time you touch a prospect or a donor, you first need to ask yourself, “what do I hope to accomplish?”  If you hope that at the end of 6 months, you will end up with a 6-figure gift, you had best broached that subject early on.

Contrary to what you may think, most donors will not be offended if you tell them that, if they do decide to make a gift, you are hoping it will be for such and such an amount or in a particular range.  You do not want to be in the situation of thinking you are cultivating someone for a large gift only to discover that they were thinking more in terms of $100.

The more you have clarity about your purpose and hoped for outcomes, the better you can devise a plan that will get you there.  And if it is a direction your prospect is not interested in going, better to know before you’ve invested unnecessary time and effort.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase fundraising capacity, set and reach their goals.  Learn how she can help you or your organization at or email her at