Fundraising--it's not brain surgery

Throughout my development career—almost 30 years now—I have been reminded regularly that fundraising just isn’t brain surgery.  But I’ve begun to think that maybe it is.  If it isn’t, if it is something that is not very hard and doesn’t take a whole lot of brain power, surely more people would be doing it. Maybe that is bogus.  Ditch digging also is not brain surgery, and how many people actually dig ditches?  However, for most, digging ditches is not the difference between survival and failure; fulfilling your mission and unable to do your work.

People are afraid of asking for money.  I get that.  But there are so many to raise funds that don’t require anyone to approach another person and ask for anything, up close and personally, and still too often, fundraising just doesn’t happen.

As a consultant, hired to help nonprofits with fundraising programs, I see this over and over again.

After a thorough assessment of who the organization is, what resources they have to hand, what the organizational culture is, we development a fundraising plan.  The plans I provide for my clients are not big and strategic (though I like to think they are that, too).  They are very granular, very tactical, very much of the now you this and then you do that.  In other words, not just what you need to do but actual instructions on how you will do it.

And still, what I see often, is after the plan is adopted, the board and staff do everything but follow the plan.

We agree on an end of the year appeal that is integrated in a number of platforms—and instead the organizations opts to sell holiday ornaments.  And then is depressed by (a) how little has been netted; (b) the realization that the only people buying were themselves and (c) it did nothing to solidify relationships.

We go back to the drawing board.  We spend an hour or two talking about attitude, goals, what is wrong with the plan we developed.  They are, they say, going to do it.  It makes sense; it looks like it could succeed.

It takes time, I remind them.  Commit to this for at least three years.

Some do.  They start to raise money.  They find that in raising money, it is also easier to find terrific board members.  Programs start to grow.  Fundraising gets more personal—and more money is raised.

See—it’s not brain surgery.  It is just something you have to do.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to go from mired to inspired.  Learn how she can help you increase your fundraising capacity and build board commitment at  While there, sign up for the newsletter and do contact Janet for a free, 30-minute consultation