Visualizing Your (Fundraising) Future

Eleven years ago, when a new president was appointed at the university where I served as Vice President of University Advancement, I knew my days were numbered.  I also knew that I should get the word out to my networks that I was, in Susan Scott, the author of Fierce Conversations words, “available to industry.”  But I could not get my heart around the idea of going elsewhere where I would—again—have to get up every single day, drive to the same office and interact with the same people.  It was beyond me. What, then, I thought, could I do?  Retirement really wasn’t in the cards, but at 60, I wasn’t sure I wanted to start all over again in a new career.

What to do?

I started visualizing how I would like to spend my days.

It quickly became obvious to me that (a) I needed to be my own boss, (b) I didn’t want to deal with staff and (c) I wanted to control my own time.

As a consultant, I got (a) and (b); (c) not so much, but hey, you can’t have it all.

As a fundraiser, I used to visualize what I wanted my relationships with my prospects and donors to look like—and then created plans that nurtured that.

While some donors fit into several categories, what the relationship was with an annual, major and planned gift donor, was different, and required different levels and types of cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship.

Annual donors, because I was counting on them to make gifts year after year, required touches over each and every month of the year.  As a donor myself, I knew that the key to donor attrition was to only pay attention when asking for a gift.  I needed to figure out how to reach out and educate, inform, and thank these donors on an ongoing basis.

The size of the gift did matter. Those who gave smaller gifts got more arm’s length attention.  Those whose gifts were larger got more personal attention. And those I felt were ready to move up to larger gifts, got very special, very personal care.

Major gift prospects—those I was courting for a singular gift (perhaps over a number of years) for a specific purpose—needed a plan that would engage them over the time it took to solicit the gift, and then a way to ensure that they forever felt that being a major donor was the best thing that ever happened to them.  Typically, this meant figuring out ways to make them feel that they were insiders and ensuring that they had access to the people and programs that motivated them.  Unlike annual plans, which were created once a year, major gift plans were ongoing for as long as the cultivation and solicitation lasted.  And then the focus was on stewardship—reactive, thanking them for their gift and proactive, looking forward to the next.

Planned giving was a whole different thing.  There were the annual donors who might—if educated—remember us in their trust or will.  And then there were the bigger donors who might leave us valuable personal or real property; make us the beneficiary of a remainder trust or charitable annuity.  Or they might use other planned giving vehicles to make us part of their estate planning.

For these planned giving prospects, there was ongoing marketing, educating them about the purpose, need, impact of a planned gift.  And then there were the donors who needed support as they planned how they would remember us—and we would remember them—in the future.

By visualizing how we would interact, I could see where I needed to go and what I had to do. And in that way, I could visualize and then realize, stronger support for my organization.

Janet Levine Consulting helps nonprofits to visualize and then to plan their future. Learn more at While there, sign up for the newsletter and contact Janet for a free 30-minute consultation