Fear of fundraising comes from four basic places in my experience:
- Fear of begging for money.
- Fear of looking stupid.
- Fear of rejection.
- Fear of public speaking.
Let’s address these one by one.
1. Fear of begging for money
Money remains, perhaps, the number one taboo subject in our culture. We have a deep-rooted psychological aversion to talking about money. Most of us were raised to believe this is impolite, at best, and crass, at worst. Even religion, sex, and politics are better discussion topics as far as most of us are concerned.
Where money is concerned, we tend to come from a place of “no.” And people think fundraising is all about money. But, of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Because if you stop to think about it, no one gives your organization $1,000 of their hard-earned money because they just have no place else to put it. It’s not about the money. It’s about what you’ll be able to do with the money. In other words, it’s all about the impact.
You must retire the tin cup mode of fundraising. You aren’t asking people to give you money for your personal use. No! You’re offering them the opportunity to make an impact that aligns, hopefully, with their values. Giving them such an opportunity—to find greater meaning and purpose in their life—is, in truth, priceless.
2. Fear of looking stupid
What if you don’t know every detail of every program? Ever have a board member tell you, the fundraiser, that you better do the asking because you know more about the program than they do? Nonsense! No one needs to know everything. In fact, all those facts and figures are not what move donors to contribute.
Substitute passion for data. As long as the solicitor, staff or volunteer, believes in the mission and walks the talk (by giving before asking), that’s all that is needed. I often tell board members it’s not so much what you say, but how you say it. Connecting with your passion for your cause is much more important than memorizing every detail of every program. And, in fact, a volunteer can do something a paid staff member can’t—offer persuasive testimonial that serves as “social proof” your organization is necessary and effective.
You can always get back to donor prospects with more information later. Never be afraid to admit you don’t know something. Try “That’s a great question! I don’t know the answer, but I’ll definitely find out for you and get right back to you. Or, if you’d like, I can set up a meeting with our program director.” This makes you look accommodating and, when you follow through, you establish trust. Instead of looking stupid, I think this is darn smart!
3. Fear of rejection
This ties back to the feeling you’re begging. We don’t like to have to ask for help. But, remember, you’re not asking for yourself.
If your prospect says, “No,” that’s okay. It’s their loss, not yours. Maybe your mission doesn’t float their particular boat, and they have other philanthropic interests. Good for them! Time for you to move on to the next donor meeting and offer up your wonderful philanthropic opportunity to someone who may be more receptive.
4. Fear of public speaking
Making an ask can feel a bit like being put on the spot to perform. And aside from a few exhibitionistic extroverts, most people hate this. So much, in fact, that fear of public speaking is listed as number one on the Book of List’s Top 10 List of Fears. Death is way down at number seven. So, as both Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld are known to have quipped, “I guess we’d rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy.”
This fear likely stems from fear of being ostracized. Darwin posited survival of the most empathic, meaning communities where people bonded together and took care of one another were those that survived. They were the “most fit.” Humans accordingly feared being cast out. It’s evolutional; we’re wired this way. So, it’s something you must consciously address. Understanding this can be helpful as a beginning, as can all of the advice given above.
Sometimes overcoming fear means “faking it ’til you’re making it.” I love Seth Godin’s What if you pretended, just for a little while … (emphasis is mine):
What if you acted as if?
What if you pretended that you were glad to see me, happy to deliver this service, eager for it to be well received?
What if you acted as though you were more charismatic than you feel—more confident, more competent?
What if you demonstrated optimism about what’s about to happen next, even if you’re not sure?
It takes effort, more than most of us can expend day in and day out.
But what if you invested that effort, just for a little while?
It’s entirely possible that acting as if would actually create the very outcome you’re hoping for.”
Don’t walk in the door saying, “I know I’m probably the last person you wanted to see.”
Don’t think to yourself, “I’m going to twist his arm to make a donation.”
That’s no way to run an airline, or a philanthropic ask!
Remember, the word philanthropy translates from the Greek to mean love of humankind.
When you dig down to your love of your mission, and speak from your heart, there’s nothing to be afraid of. No one will think you’re a terrible actor—because you won’t be acting!
Philanthropy, not fundraising, will shift you and your board from feeling negative to feeling positive.
I encourage you to actively share your values and enable others with similar values to also participate in the wonderful mission of which you’re a part.
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, was named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and brings 30 years of frontline development and marketing experience to her work as principal of her social benefit consulting firm, Clairification. Check out her online course, Winning Major Gift Fundraising Strategies.