What gets in the way of you and your board raising more money?
For a fundraising trainer like me, this is a key question. Any sort of fundraising education must address the barriers that make it difficult for people to participate.
This list of common barriers won’t surprise you. Perhaps you’ve experienced them yourself.
- Cultural taboos around money—mentioning it, asking for it, discussing it openly
- Misinformation about the nonprofit economy and how organizations generate revenue
- Misunderstanding about who gives (“I don’t know anyone who has money”)
- Fear of failure
- Limited volunteer time and focus
- Lack of training
However, here’s another that’s both pervasive and easy to solve:
- Fear of looking dumb—not knowing enough about your organization to answer all the questions a donor might ask
The myth of the elevator pitch
Many board members have been encouraged to embrace the myth of the elevator pitch, which goes something like this:
“If I can just master the 90-second spiel …
“If I can just remember the five bullets and say them in the right order …
“If I can just speak convincingly …
… then people will give me money.”
To be fair, a good pitch—articulate, clear, and enthusiastic—is a useful tool in the fundraiser’s toolbox. However, focusing on your pitch ignores and even undermines a greater truth: fundraising is a conversation, not a monologue.
This obsession with pitches also reinforces a big unspoken fear, which goes something like this: “What if I deliver a solid pitch … and then the donor asks me questions I can’t answer? Won’t I look stupid?”
Using humility to your advantage
First, let’s assume that nobody—not even founders or long-time executive directors—can anticipate and answer every possible question. That’s unrealistic.
Second, let’s embrace the wisdom that fundraising isn’t about money, it’s about relationships—building them, honoring them, and strengthening them.
When a donor asks a question you can’t answer, you can use the three most powerful words in fundraising:
“I don’t know.”
Rapidly followed by, “What a great question. Let me find the answer and get back to you.”
At this moment, the donor has opened the door for further contact—your chance to gather information, educate yourself, and get back in touch.
An opportunity to better serve your donors
The words “I don’t know” provide you with a simple way to serve your donors and deepen relationships. Any seasoned fundraiser will grab this opportunity, because it’s an excuse to stay in touch and have a follow-up conversation.
Compare this to the know-it-alls who can answer every question on the spot. What’s their next step with the donor?
Learning to be comfortable not knowing the answer is challenging for some people, especially those who want to be seen as smart, competent, and right.
I’m reminded of a workshop I led years ago. When I asked participants why they came and what they wanted to learn, one woman raised her hand and said, “I’m trying to get over myself.” Translation: I’m trying to get my ego out of the way, so I can be of service to my organization.
For fundraisers, that’s the sweet spot.
Listening the gift
The late fundraising guru Jerry Panas often talked about “listening the gift.” According to Panas, the great skill in fundraising is listening, rather than talking. Listen deeply for the donor’s intent, then explore how your nonprofit can best serve that intent.
Good listeners encourage questions—especially tough questions. The kind they can’t answer. The kind that require more research, which lead to further questions.
Just like that, you’re having a deep, meaningful conversation—which is pretty much the opposite of an elevator pitch.
“I don’t know” positions you for success
Embrace these “I don’t know” moments. Encourage board members and other volunteer fundraisers to do the same.
Your donors will appreciate your authenticity and humility. They’ll be grateful (and impressed) when you return with the answers to their questions. Use this moment to further strengthen the relationship.
This post is reprinted from the Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise Money Blog.
Andy Robinson is author of How to Raise $500 to $5000 from Almost Anyone; What Every Board Member Needs to Know, Do, and Avoid Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise Money (co-authored with Andrea Kihlstedt); and The Board Member’s Easier Than You Think Guide to Nonprofit Finances (co-authored with Nancy Wasserman).