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Overcome Nonprofit Board Fundraising Resistance through Storytelling, Part 1

Overcome Nonprofit Board Fundraising Resistance through Storytelling, Part 1Is your board resisting fundraising? Are you having a difficult time motivating them to be a part of this essential activity at your organization?

One way to help your board discover the joy of fundraising is to show them it’s really about telling and hearing stories, not asking!

But before you can do that successfully, you must first take responsibility for board fundraising success.

That’s right! All too often nonprofit staff wallow in complaining about their board members. “They won’t do this ... they won’t do that ... they’ll do anything but fundraise.” Whose fault is that?! Did you prepare your board members for their fundraising role, or were they brought onto the board with the reassurance that they wouldn’t have to help raise money?

Take Responsibility for Board Fundraising

If you’re ambivalent about the board’s role, they will be too.

If you’re afraid of fundraising, they will be too.

You can’t help board members overcome their fears until you overcome yours. Can you imagine trying to help someone, who is afraid of flying, get on a plane if you’re afraid to fly?!

Board members are people, just like you. They have the same needs, wants, hopes, dreams—and fears—as do you.

Your job is to HELP them achieve their dreams. And SUPPORT them to overcome their fears. That means you must overcome your fears too.

Avoid the “F” Word

Boards fear the “F” word: Fundraising.

It can cause panic in even the most capable board members.

If you’re working with a board that has not been involved in fundraising in the past, or even with members who’ve done some fundraising previously, the best way to ease them into it is not through browbeating.

Don’t tell them what they should do. Don’t be their mother. Or their non-empathetic boss. Be their kind and professional teacher and coach.

Fundraising should be joyful. It’s your job to take your board members by the hand and show them how fulfilling—and really natural—this can be.

Move from “Necessary Evil” to Changing Lives

Your goal should be to move folks from thinking of asking as a necessary evil to thinking of it as a way to change lives and repair the world.

Fundraising is not an end in itself; it’s how you meet the goal. You offer the opportunity for people to satisfy their own desire to enact their values. You offer an inspiring investment with a positive social return.

If you and your board members don’t ask for philanthropic gifts, you deny people the opportunity for joy and meaning.

Often nonprofit leaders tell me “We’re the best kept secret in town.” Again, whose fault is that? Stop being so selfish. Share what you do—the impact you have—your STORY! And suggest the even greater impact you could have with the donor’s help.

One of the best ways to approach this sharing is through storytelling. But ... before we get there, let’s take a look at the way most fundraising is currently framed.

Avoid Framing Fundraising as a “Chore”

People avoid chores. They’re seen as dirty. Or necessary evils. They’re transactional, rather than transformational. And they’re seldom seen as fun.

And, let’s face it, fundraising is seen as one of the “dirtiest” chores around. Because it involves money. And we hate to talk about money, let alone ask for it. It’s one of the biggest societal taboos around. There’s even a term for it: “filthy lucre.”

So you’ve got to help board members understand fundraising is about impact, not money. Money is merely a symbol of what it can accomplish: The happy ending to the story you’re going to share. You should never go into an ask and say “Can you give us $1,000 because ... we need money.

Rather, you should talk about emotionally resonant and aspirational things. Like hopes, visions, and dreamed-for outcomes. Sure, it will cost money to get to these things. But ... who cares once a decision has been reached of the outsized value of the goals discussed?

When push comes to shove, most people want to be part of something larger than themselves. When a donor makes a gift, he or she becomes a partner in a cause that is bigger than just one person's life. It’s a way for them to be the change they want to see in the world—and the “asker” facilitates this amazing accomplishment!

Stories Put Askers and Donors Alike on a Larger Stage

If you can show people how to become part of a great story, you can overcome fear of fundraising. There are two fundamental reasons people are nervous. By reframing fundraising as storytelling, you can take away their fear.

But first ... let’s take a closer look and what folks are afraid of. I suggest you have your board members take a look at this too.

It’s hard to overcome something until you look it square in the face and understand what’s holding you back.

People fear:

1. REJECTION. They think they’re asking for themselves; begging. We’ve been raised to believe it’s impolite to talk about money. No one wants to be a “charity case.”

ACTION TIP: Hold a group board session. Ask: “When did you give when you felt bad?” Encourage folks to share all their stories about guilt, peer pressure, etc. and get all their bad energy about fundraising out on the table. Then ask: “When did you give when you felt good?” Usually it’s when they’re giving back where they, a family member, or friend were helped. Or where they volunteer. Or a cause where they were profusely thanked and also updated on the impact of their gift. It made them feel good. Here's what they will say: I feel proud ... joyous ... glad I could do it ... wish I could do more ... happy ... giving back ... part of something important ... powerful.Now remind them these are the exact same emotions other donors feel when they give money.

2. LACK OF KNOWLEDGE/SKILLS. Board members do not fully understand your organization, the impact it makes, or its mission well enough to talk comfortably about it. They don't know how to be articulate spokespeople for your cause. You may give your board members plenty of materials, but often it’s not the right information or it’s too full of data and jargon for board members to use effectively.

ACTION TIP: Forget all the facts and figures. Give them inspiring stories! Stories make people happy. Before you even bring up the topic of fundraising with your board members, they have to be engaged, active, excited and involved. Stories make this happen! Everyone loves stories (remember asking your parents to read you one at bedtime?), and they’re a lot easier to remember than dry talking points.

Storytelling Is an Essential Part of Fearless Fundraising

The heart and soul of YOU is your story.

You’re certainly not afraid of telling your own story, are you?

And guess what?

Donors aren’t afraid of hearing it either. Or of being asked about their own stories.

Stories are a gift. People are wired to be receptive to stories. They are the earliest and most resonant form of human communication. We’re super comfortable with stories.

And the great thing about storytelling is it’s the opposite of the way fundraising is usually framed. As yucky, scary “hitting people up” or “twisting their arm.” Stories are a more gentle way to draw people in, and they’re easily infused with philanthropy (which translates to “love of humankind”)—emotion, pathos, empathy, sadness, anger, hope, joy, and the whole panoply of emotions that resonate with human beings.

In Part 2 of this two-part series we’ll look at the types of stories you can tell, and how these stories set both askers and givers up for a joyful experience.

Overcome Nonprofit Board Fundraising Resistance through Storytelling, Part 1Claire 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.

Topics: Fundraising Nonprofit Storytelling Nonprofit boards and fundraising