How do you help those who are afraid of fundraising to become comfortable in what should be a mission-aligned role for everyone associated with your nonprofit organization?
After all, everyone benefits from increased philanthropy. Not just development staff.
Increasingly, successful nonprofits are adopting cultures of philanthropy where everyone involved – administrative staff, program staff, board members, committee members, direct service volunteers and even beneficiaries – comes together as ambassadors, advocates and askers on behalf of furthering the organization’s mission, enacting its values and fulfilling its vision.
Facilitating philanthropy is not rocket science, yet folks unaccustomed to the relationship cultivation and solicitation required to land major donations are fearful because they don’t know how to do it. It’s the job of a nonprofit’s leadership to work with your insiders (staff and volunteers) to help them feel both passionate about the cause and confident in the fundraising process.
Still, there are barriers to be overcome; first and foremost is fundraising fear. This fear takes many forms, and is perhaps best expressed in some of the questions I frequently receive. So I’m endeavoring to answer a few of these questions below. Hopefully this will help you address these challenges within your own organization so you, too, can transform folks from fearful and reluctant to joyful and ready fundraisers.
FAQ: How to Overcome Cultural and Fear-Based Barriers to Fundraising
How do you address fear of rejection?
One way is to reframe fundraising as offering an opportunity to experience something wonderful rather than a form of begging. Your staff and board, presumably, love your organization. They’re passionate about your mission and vision. So… why wouldn’t they want to share this with others?
I often ask folks if they share a favorite restaurant or movie with their friends. Of course they do! Then I ask if they feel ‘rejected’ if their friend says “Oh, that sounds great but I don’t really like Thai food… horror movies… etc. Of course they don’t! So then I ask them: “Why are you being so stingy with the charity you love?!”
Another way is to reframe fundraising as storytelling. Rather than insisting folks learn a bunch of facts, figures and talking points, ask staff and board to tell you how they first got involved with your mission and/or organization. Ask them to tell the story of why they stay involved. You need to connect people with their passions so they can share their passions. When someone tells their own story, in their own words, it’s not scary at all.
Fundraising must be viewed as a servant to philanthropy. No one is asking for money merely for the sake of money. They’re asking to serve a greater purpose, engaging others in a compelling story, and then matching folks interested in this story with a cause they value and a solution they can endorse. Board members are best equipped to make appeals when they’re passionate about what they’re “selling,” and come to understand that selling is not a bad thing (at least not when you’re offering something your would-be donor values). Leadership should help board members identify which services speak most to them and make those services the heart of each person’s appeal. It comes down to inspiration trumping hesitation.
How do you deal with those who believe fundraising has to be aggressive?
As long as people in your organization think giving is taking something away from donors, you’re sunk. Because often those same people think the only way to “take” that thing is to use strong arm tactics. They’ll talk about “hitting people up” and “twisting someone’s arm.” That’s the absolute worst way to approach philanthropy. And it’s a real turn-off for the lion’s share of people whose natural reaction will be: “That’s not for me; not my style.”
Your job is to make philanthropy all about love, not war. Pleasure, not pain. If you make it about bullying, you’ll get few fundraisers and reluctant donors. So make sure to quash these aggressive phrases whenever you hear them.
How do you address quid pro quo fear?
Have you ever had a board member tell you they don’t want to ask their friends because they don’t want to be asked in return?
This fear stems from believing that asking is an arm-twisting, guilt-inflicting, “you rub my back and I’ll rub yours” endeavor. It’s not!
Asking should be about sharing one’s passions with others, and then asking them to join you if they share your passions.
“Different strokes for different folks” is the way around the quid pro quo dilemma.
It’s quite possible that you and your friend both love music. So when you ask her to make a gift to the symphony on whose board you sit, this makes sense. When she later asks you to make a gift to the environmental organization on whose board she sits, it’s perfectly okay for you to decline if environmental issues don’t particularly float your boat. And you explain this to your friend exactly this way:
“Sarah, I’m so appreciative of the gift you made to the symphony. I know how much we both love classical music. I’d love to support a cause of yours, too, but this one just isn’t my thing. I’ve decided to make impact gifts to five philanthropies annually, which means I stick with the causes closest to my heart. This just isn’t one of them. I respect the work you’re doing for them and hope you understand.”
And one more thing: Quite often, the quid pro quo ask never materializes. Your friend may or may not give to your organization; you may or may not give to your friend’s. And she may or may not ask you to do so.
How do you address the fear-based excuse of “I don’t know any rich people”?
There are two ways around this one. The first is to reframe this by showing folks that passionate donors don’t have to be rich. Anyone can be a philanthropist. Try this:
“You don’t need to know rich people. Just think of your peers. Are there any who might be interested in what we do? You’re making a stretch gift here. Maybe they’d like to join you. You love this organization. Perhaps they will, too. Don’t assume they won’t be interested. Don’t say no on their behalf. Let them in on what we’re accomplishing here—maybe they’ll get just excited about it as you are!”
The second is to offer a different fundraising assignment. They don’t have to identify donor prospects, at least not until they become comfortable doing so. Board members can play a number of different fundraising roles—as ambassadors, advocates, and askers. Ultimately, your goal is to get them to wear all three hats. But sometimes you must work up to this slowly. Try this:
“If you can’t think of anyone to refer right now, let’s look at some other ways you might be able to help us with donor development. Would you be willing to make thank you calls, write personal notes on appeals, speak on our behalf at a community group, escort prospective donors on tours? How might you be comfortable sharing your passion about our mission with others?”
How do your persuade stretched-thin boards development and relationship building should be their highest priority?
Nonprofits are established to meet demonstrated community needs. A board’s highest priority is to assure demonstrated needs are being addressed. They do this through their double-fisted governance and financing roles.
The board as a whole has governance responsibility to establish policies, programs, procedures, and budget and to assure the mission is carried out effectively. In this regard, it also collectively hires, evaluates, and fires the executive director.
The board members as individuals have the responsibility to assure financing is in place to carry out the mission. If they refuse to ensure funding is in place to carry out the plans and budgets they’ve approved, they’re essentially creating an unfunded mandate.
Often, staff will criticize board members for “underperforming.” But how can they perform well if they don’t understand their role and responsibilities? Staff have an ongoing responsibility to orient, educate, and develop their board so they can effectively fulfill their job. For an interesting take on board roles, check out Problem Boards or Board Problem?
What do you do when boards say they’ll help with an event, but won’t ask people one to one?
Board members will often gravitate toward special event fundraising, such as selling tickets to a cocktail party or a golf outing, because they believe it’s an easy way to solicit support without having to make the case in person. However, leadership should help board members understand that events are one of the least cost-effective ways to fundraise. Typically, the best ones raise just 50 cents on the dollar compared with just 5 – 10 cents for individual major gift fundraising.
When people buy a ticket, this doesn’t translate to a major contribution. In fact, sometimes it barely covers the cost associated with running the event. People typically give major donations only to other people, not to organizations. Even the most inspiring event can’t match the emotional connection of a face-to-face appeal.
What do you do when board members refuse to accept their fundraising role?
I’m often asked what you can do if board members remain resistant. Is it acceptable to ask them to step down? To that I say, absolutely!
Board slots are valuable, and you can’t afford to have them filled with folks who just sit on the sofa. Plus, cranky and passive board members drag other members down. One rotten apple truly can spoil the whole barrel. Ask them to do something else if being a board member is not a good fit for them at this point in time. Suggest they may be more comfortable, and more useful to you, on a committee or advisory group. Or set them up with a meaningful volunteer activity.
How can we implement these ideas with an “old” board?
If you have board members who’ve been on since the organization’s founding, that’s not healthy. Times change. Missions evolve. Relationships get stale. Rolodexes get used up. Strategies that didn’t work yesterday just might work today. You need to bring on new blood.
Boards really should have terms of office established in the by-laws. You need to escape from the cycle of “that’s not how we do things here.” Plus, you need opportunities to move new folks onto your board as a big “reward” for being a dedicated donor and/or volunteer. If you limit the ways new folks can get involved with your organization, you limit your ability to raise funds going forward.
And then there’s the issue of group dynamics. Board leaders who fear fundraising spread that fear. A scarcity mindset prevails where everyone whines about how difficult it is to raise money—to the point where it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Cup-half-empty boards lead to cup-half-empty nonprofits. You won’t be able to grow. And in today’s competitive environment, if you don’t grow, you die.
Everything Boils Down to Inspiring Philanthropy
I never run a “fundraising training” session. Who wants to be trained? It makes the process sound difficult. Instead, offer a session on “inspiring philanthropy.” Remind folks that philanthropy comes from a place of love, not money. It’s literally in the definition of the word (love of humankind).
Begin with igniting your stakeholders’ passions so their important role of ensuring your mission will survive and thrive follows as naturally as flowers follow spring showers. Passion is contagious.
Simply ask folks to:
- Get in touch with their own passion for your cause.
- Enact their passion for your cause (with a stretch gift).
- Share their passion for your cause (by asking others to join them).
Want to learn more on how to overcome fundraising anxiety?
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