To What End?

As usual, all the stuff I thought I’d get done during the holidays, didn’t. In my defense, I had many more work meetings than I expected, but I’m not sure that would have changed much. What I have come to realize in the years I’ve been consulting is that as a sole proprietor I really really have to consider the question: To what end? It’s a question we all should ask as we embark on a task that seems as if it is something we should be spending time on. Often, however, it really is not. Years ago, when I was a development director at a university in the midst of a capital campaign, our campaign committee often asked for reports in many different formats.

I knew that my job was to raise the money, not to spend precious time in reporting on things that didn’t move the needle in any way, shape, or form. So I designed one report that contained what I considered the critical information and submitted that every month. And then I went out on prospect and donor calls.

At first, my board members badgered me for the “other” reports and I did have to spend time showing them how to pull the information for themselves from what I had sent them. They grumbled, telling me how my colleagues were doing their part in this reporting effort. But then, things changed.

In month 4, my colleagues had a whole lot less to report than I did—understandably, their time was spent on…yep, writing reports. I, on the other hand, had focused on fundraising.

It wasn’t really that I was smarter than my colleagues, just more ornery. And the reports were boring to produce. But at a deeper level, there was also the truth that my job was to fundraise and I decided that doing my job was more important than responding to random directives that took me off task.

There was, of course, a lot more behind the scenes negotiating than I am describing here. There was my boss, who understood why I wanted to do what I wanted to do and told me that he would back me—as long as my fundraising efforts showed results. That made me work even harder at my job, something I’m sure he knew would happen.

And there was my history and reputation. My boss, the university president, the board members all knew that I produced. I could not have gotten my way if I didn’t have that behind me.

What that time taught me—and has served me well most of the time (in full disclosure, there were times that my going my own way, despite good results in my areas of responsibility, pushed me into corners that were not places I wanted to be)—is that it is critical that you are clear on what you are supposed to accomplish. And that when you have clarity on that, ensure that your actions are helping you to get there.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase fundraising capacity and build more committed boards. Learn how she can help you at or email her at