Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Overcoming the Fear of Fundraising

It is the legal responsibility of every nonprofit Board of Directors to ensure that their organization has the resources to fulfill its mission - and that means fundraising.
Yet those who recruit new members often fail to mention this for fear of scaring people away. And board members frequently become paralyzed when asked to do their part to raise money in the one manner that is the most efficient and cost-effective: asking donors directly for contributions.

Here are the most common fears people have - and some suggestions about how to address them:

  • Fear of rejection: First of all, you're going to be turned down;on average 50% of good prospects will give - but note that this means on average 50% do contribute! Your job is to know that being turned down has nothing to do with you personally. When people choose not to give, they do so for many reasons - but it does not mean that you are a bad person or that they hate you.
  • Fear of failure: It's important to change your definition of success in fundraising. Success is how many times you ask. And if you make all your asks, you get an A+.
  • Fear of looking stupid: No donor will expect you to know everything. And when someone asks you a question you can't answer, say "That's a great question - thanks for asking! Let me talk with the Executive Director and get back to you." You can also approach the donor with a knowledgeable partner (staff or board).
  • Fear of alienating friends: Have you ever lost or damaged a friendship because of a charitable request? If you make your asks with integrity (and without blindsiding your friends unexpectedly), they may or may not give, but they will not disinherit you. Give them an out: "If you choose not to participate, that's OK: we'll still be friends. But I sure hope you can help."
Fundraising is not about your feelings - it's about the donor. Just as you feel good when you make a charitable donation to a cause you care about, you are giving the donor an opportunity to feel good. It's not about begging or hounding people - rather it is about facilitating a fair exchange where donors give one thing of value (their money) in exchange for another thing of value (the good work of your organization). And it's not just about money - it's about building sustained relationships.

Your job is to reach out with integrity - speak with passion about your agency's mission, make a clear case, listen carefully, and invite the donor to become involved. There are strategies and techniques but they are far less important than the one quality you need to be successful: your passion for the mission.

So kick yourself and your fears out of the way and let the cause talk. Your job - and it is indeed an honorable one - is to get out there and raise the money your agency needs to do its good work.