For what it is worth

When I started consulting more than a decade ago, I went from having a fair size staff to call on to having… one but me.  It was a bit of a shock to my system, and it took me time to figure out how I could possibly get everything done. It wasn’t the first time I was a one-person office, but it was the first time that every single thing—every success or every failure—would rest squarely and solely on my shoulders.

It was, in a word, daunting.

A friend of mine reminded me that the most consequential thing I could do would be to place a value on everything I did.  A time value.  To recognize that, like everyone, I had 168 hours available to me every single week.  And between 50-60 of those hours were spent sleeping.

In order to place a time value, I had to think first about the purpose of everything I did.  Writing this blog, for example, is important to me as it lets me think things through.  But it doesn’t reach as many people as I would like and it rarely brings me work.  So while I think about what I want to write quite a bit at the gym, in the shower, when I’m driving, I actually only spend 30 minutes writing and posting my blog.  Thirty minutes a week is what I think it is worth to me right now.

Preparing proposals is more important, but truth to tell, most of the proposals that actually turn into work are what I write after I’m pretty sure I’m getting the job.  It’s more an addendum to a contract—and I spend much more time on that than I do on sending out responses to RFP’s.

Doing client work is most important—preparing for meetings, following up on them and, of course, being in the meeting itself.  Also really important to me are my workshops and classes.  I probably spend more time than the amount I earn decrees, getting it right so participants and students find that the workshop/class was worth their time.

Most of my clients have small (often nonexistent) development departments.  And what I hear is a refrain of “I can’t do that, I have no time.”  As we have discovered, we ALL have 168 hours every week.  At least 35 of those are dedicated to work; more to thinking about work.  So true, not a lot of time.  But time that could be well spent if we consider first what our purpose is and why we do what we do.

Most fundraisers spend an enormous amount of their time developing collateral materials—that few people read and fewer become motivated enough to give.  And yet, if your job (or a portion of your job) is to raise funds, then your time must be spent in the most productive areas.

In my mind, those are getting new people knowing who you are, keeping your existing donors happy and prospects interested, and raising the most money to support your cause possible.  That means, in order of consequence, getting in front of the most likely larger donors and building strong relationships that will turn into dollars.  The next most important thing is to connect the dots for those who have given and have yet to give as to what donor support means and how their gifts help to accomplish what they, the donor and would-be donor, are interested in.  And finally in getting out there in person, online, in print, amongst those who might care about what you do and showing them why you matter and how they can become involved.

Everything else—the fancy brochure, the centerpiece at your gala, the look of your appeals, is very very secondary.

Spend your time where it will make a difference.  And in short order, you will notice the difference that makes.


Janet Levine Consulting works with nonprofits to increase fundraising capacity and board involvement.  Learn more at  Do contact us for a free, 30-minute consultation and see how we can move you from mired to inspired.