The Real "F" Word

Fundraising.  Often referred to as the REAL “F” word.  Something probably most of you do not want to do but since you do have to do it, are hoping that someone—anyone—will provide you with a magic bullet.  A sure-fire way to raise funds, without really having to ask. For a lot of you, that probably means an event.  After all, this organization or that one does a dinner, golf tournament, fun run, whatever, and raises tons of money.

Or do they?

Events, while often wonderful for many things, are generally one of the least effective ways to raise sustainable funds and the cost to raise a dollar is generally enormous.  But if you do an event, and that is all that you do, you are leaving a lot of money on the table.

So what do I mean by that?

Fundraising is not a one-time activity.  Or, rather, it too often is.  Which is why in the pic-of-the-week-28-1United States more than 60% of first time donors to an organization never, ever, make a second gift.  This has the effect of turning you all into hamsters—running around on the treadmill all day, every day, getting nowhere.

Raising money takes effort.  It also takes creating a plan.

To create a viable plan, you first must truly look at who you are and what resources you possess.  You need to look at:

  • Your fundraising staffing situation
  • Your board:  how generous are they, how willing and capable of being involved with fundraising
  • How many active donors you have
  • How large is your prospect pool?
  • What is your fundraising budget?

Once you do that, consider what kind(s) of fundraising you have been doing.  What has been profitable (and not costing close to or more than a dollar to raise a dollar)?  Why has it been profitable?

Then consider what—given your resources—types of fundraising techniques make sense.  If you have, for example, a very small donor base, you might consider more personal fundraising—not only to ask for larger gifts but also to see if your current donors can help you to add potential donors to your mix.

If you have a huge database but the largest gift has been $50, then you might want to add more arm’s length techniques to get more small gifts that will add up to significant support.

If all your fundraising is transactional, add some relationship building to the what you are doing.

Once you decide on what techniques you want to use, then comes the real planning—listing every step for each technique, what it is , when it occurs, who is responsible.  And what it costs.  Building a budget for each fundraising technique is as critical as setting a fundraising goal for each technique.  You have to know that if you plan on raising $10,000 from a direct mail and it will cost $12,000 to produce, you must actually bring in $22,000 to be on target.

Building the plan, critical as it is, is only part of the job.  Once you have your plan in hand, the most important step is implementing it.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to create robust fundraising plans and to do the work to actually raise the funds.  Learn how she can help you at or email her at