Mature Fundraising

My husband has a wonderful facility for sitting still he likes nothing better than a day when he an sit on the sofa or in an easy hair, reading, watching TV or movies and not moving at all. I, on the other hand, am incapable of stillness. After 15 minutes (or less) I must be up and doing something. I start and stop things--though when I do focus, I notice nothing else. All typical characteristics of a three-year-old. A lot of nonprofits are like this.  They start a fundraising initiative, but after a few days, weeks, at most a few months, they abandon that effort and then forever more respond to any suggestions about using that technique for fundraising with "We tried that.  It didn't work,"

So here I am, a person living in a glass house, throwing stones.  But really--fundraising takes time.  Often, a lot of time.  And it takes consistency.

You must plan on how you will raise funds, and then work that technique, sometimes for years, before it will yield success.

This is not to say that if something fails you must stick with it, but first be sure it is a failure and not just immature. And just because you tried it once, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it doesn’t work. It didn’t work then—why?

Maybe you just didn’t give it time. Or perhaps, you didn’t take the time to plan it well. Or maybe it was the wrong technique for your organization at that time. Perhaps it still is.

Oftentimes, when organizations lose their main source of funding (typically, government funding), the first thing they decide to do is a special event. But for an event to be successful, you must have a robust list of people who you have reason to believe will come to the event. Without that—no matter how well you plan, no matter how beautiful your tablecloths or centerpieces—your event will fall flat.

Likewise, if you’ve never done individual fundraising, don’t start by looking for people who can make 6 figure gifts. Unless there is a great tie to them, they probably won’t make those gifts to you. Today.

Start with those who already have some connection. If their capacity is small, so be it. Start with baby steps and build your pool of donors. As you gain supporters, ask each and every one not only for a gift but also for a connection to someone they know.

Think about asks that are simple. Gift clubs are good for this. Then think about how you will market this giving opportunity.

At some point, go back to members and see if you can move them to a higher level. But before you do, make sure you have stewarded them well. Thanked them. Told them what their generosity means; how their support changes lives or allows something amazing or beautiful to occur.

Whatever you start doing, keep doing it. Make it better. And when you get to a critical point, add something else, and keep doing that, also.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and build more engaged boards and donors. Learn how she can help your organization. Visit or email her at