It's In the Stars

One of my guilty pleasures is reading the newspaper horoscope column, checking out what is in store for me, my husband and my (adult) children.  Today, my daughter’s said, ‘without a destination, you’ll do a lot of moving but feel as if you are getting nowhere.  Give yourself the satisfaction of arrival.” YES!  It is what I tell my clients all the time.

Know where you are heading, otherwise, who knows where you will end up.

This is, I’ve discovered, really important in fundraising.  And where you are heading starts with how much money you must raise.  If you don’t know what that number is, how will you ever know if you have succeeded?

Often, I see nonprofits frantically engaged in deficit fundraising.  That is, doing what I call slash and burn fundraising in order to get as close to being in the black as possible.  And almost always, when I ask what their fundraising goal for the year was—in cash and pledges—and where they are now, the answer is “who knows.”  All they know is that they need to raise more money than they have.

Having a specific fundraising goal allows you to figure out the most effective ways to reach that goal.  It also helps you to benchmark and make sure you are on target.  Without that, you are, as my daughter’s horoscope said, “doing a lot of moving, but feel as if you are getting nowhere.”

To avoid getting nowhere, be very clear—what are your fundraising goals.  What new dollars do you need to bring in—cash that will come this year, and pledges that will come over the next few years.

Speaking of pledges, run a report and see what pledges are outstanding and what you need to make sure comes in as cash this year.  Looking at all those numbers, consider—what do you need to do to ensure you reach your goal? If you are a small development office, you will quickly realize that you actually cannot spent four months totally focused on your gala.  Nor can you spend the remaining 8 months on annual giving.  You will have to—you really must—carve out enough time to raise major gifts.  That means you will have to have time to plan, to arrange meetings, to go to meetings and then to follow up on those meetings.

What will you have to stop doing to make that kind of time?  What will you have to do more efficiently.

When I was a one-person office, I recognized that while I had to do my gala it shouldn’t be the primary fundraiser that it was.  I knew that 80% of my money would come from 20% of my donors and I needed to find out who they were and to focus most of my time on them.  But the gala was beloved of my board and so I needed to ensure it was good.

But good did not mean that I had to stop everything else.  I had to employ volunteers, catering staff at the venue where our event was to be held, and anyone else I could corral to do the things that had to be done but honestly didn’t add much to my bottom line.  Like ticket sales.  That’s not where the money is.  Or decorations.  Menu.  Even to some degree, the program.

My focus had to be on getting sponsorships and in identifying prospects I might want to invite as our guests to our gala.  My focus also had to be on training my board to be great gala ambassadors—not only making guests feel warm and welcome, but reporting back to me after the event.

It starts, of course, with figuring out where you need to be at the end of the fiscal year.  And then simply work backward, figuring out how best to get there.


Janet Levine works with nonprofit organizations, taking them from mired to inspired.  From board development to raising more funds, Janet Levine Consulting can help!  Got to, and after you subscribe to our newsletter, contact us for a free, 30-minute consultation.