Magical Fundraising Thinking

For weeks, my hair has looked awful. Limp, lank, just hanging there.  So I bit the bullet Arcadiaand made an appointment for a haircut.  And yes, immediately my hair perked up and looked to me if not great then pretty darn good. It’s often like that.  The car problem that disappears as soon as you get to the mechanic, the sore throat that vanishes as soon as you get into the doctor’s office, all sorts of things that appear to melt away as soon as you move toward a fix.

Until, of course, it comes right back again. As it will, because moving toward a fix isn’t the same as actually fixing the problem.

Nonprofits too often fall for this magical thinking.  We’ll hire a consultant or appoint someone on staff to be the development director and—like magic—our financial woes will disappear.

So let me repeat myself here:  moving toward a fix isn’t the same as actually fixing the problem. These are (often good) first steps, but they are only the first step.  Now you have to work with the consultant to make the changes that so obviously need changing and/or give your new staff member a realistic goal and the tools to reach the goal.

And here is where frustration sets in.

When I get together with other nonprofit consultants, our plaints are pretty much the same: I cannot get my client to:

  • Respond
  • Meet
  • Move forward (or in any direction!)
  • Put the plan into action
  • Make appointments/get out from behind the desk
  • Create a donor list
  • Work with her board
  • Give me the information I need

The last is the common wail of every grantwriter I know.

The other week, one of my more recalcitrant clients gave me a heads up:  They had finally (finally!  After more than a year!) started to follow through on the recurring gift initiative.  I want to go on record here, that “follow through” simply meant pushing the button to send out the first of 6 monthly emails (to be recycled over the following 6 months) to go out to a certain cohort of several hundred people, asking them to support the organization with a gift via payroll deduction that their company endorses (and endorses yes, a year or more ago).

Guess what?  Gifts started coming in.

Who knew?  Said the ED.

Who knew what? I thought.  That actually doing the work would bring results?

Another (former) client let me know that after a pretty dismal event last year, they thought that they would take my advice and use the sponsorship plan I had put together with their (then) development director two years ago.  The one they kept telling me they already were doing everything I suggested, but of course they weren’t.  And now there was one little glitch:  They wanted to work the plan, but they couldn’t find the document.  Could I send it again?  And could they talk with me for maybe 40 minutes about it?

At least they remembered there HAD been a plan—and while it took a while, at least they are willing to try it now.

Some days I feel like Sisyphus, rolling that stone up the hill, only to have it fall down again and I have to start all over again.  And then, just when I think, NO!  I cannot, a client makes a breakthrough, a board member remembers that fundraising is actually her job, meetings are set, emails are responded to, and the plan that we have worked on is actually, truly implemented. And fundraising actually, truly starts to happen.


Janet Levine helps nonprofits go from mired to inspired (though sometimes it takes time!).  Learn more at  While there, sign for the newsletter and do contact Janet for a free 30 minute consultation.