Most fear of fundraising boils down to two factors:
(1) fear of rejection, and
(2) fear of looking stupid due to insufficient knowledge/skills.
It turns out these fears are relatively easy to overcome. But it requires some serious reframing. A move away from begging and towards offering a gift of opportunity. The opportunity to feel joy, meaning and purpose.
The hard part is overcoming our deep-rooted psychological aversion to talking about money.
Most of us were raised to believe this is impolite. We’d rather talk about anything else.
In fact, many scholars argue money is the number one social taboo in America (see also Krueger, The Last Taboo). 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.”
Alas, people think fundraising is all about money.
Here’s what I mean: Say the word “fundraising” and look at people’s faces. Their mouths will pucker up in a grimace. Their eyes will squinch closed as if in pain. Their brows will furrow. I recently tried this with a board of directors, asking them each to give me the first word they thought of when they thought of fundraising. Here are the (all) negatives:
- Hang up
When viewed as being about money fundraising, at best, is seen as an onerous chore; a necessary evil.
Folks will put it off for as long as possible – sometimes forever. This is why many organizations find themselves in an endless cycle of cultivation, never getting around to the “ask”. We even get as far as making solicitation assignments to our volunteers, and they often tell us they are willing. But they back burner the job. We call and remind them. They say “yes, I’m meaning to do that soon.” They don’t. We call again. Nada. Zip. Effectively, we say “no” on behalf of our would-be supporters – never even extending them the courtesy of making their own decision.
Before you know it, the year has ended and staff and volunteers alike have effectively avoided doing their job.
Why do people do this, especially with organizations they love? When you work for a nonprofit, serve on a board, or participate as a committed donor, aren’t you making a statement about your values? And if you truly value something, wouldn’t you want to share those values with others and enable others with similar values to also participate in the wonderful mission of which you’re a part? You would think so, right?
This brings me to the word “philanthropy”, which literally means “love of humankind” (from Greek). When I asked the same board who painted the word “fundraising” with a negative brush to paint the word “philanthropy” for me, here are the (all) positives:
Fundraising is not about money; as a servant to philanthropy it’s really about love.
And you mustn’t say “no” to love on behalf of others. This is doing them no favors, and stems again from the misplaced notion that asking is ‘bad,’ It’s not!
And people are perfectly capable of saying “no” on their own; they should be able to make their own choices. What makes us feel okay about denying others the opportunity to feel fulfilled? To feel a warm glow of joy? To do something meaningful that resonates with their values? As one of my fundraising mentors and founder of The Fundraising School, Hank Rosso, said: “Fundraising is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.”
First board members must understand their role as noble “philanthropy facilitators.”
Once they are no longer looking at themselves as ignoble money grubbers, they can shift their brains from a place of “detestable” to a place of “honorable.” To a place of helping donors see their way to greatness. Most of us genuinely want to help others. We want to care about something other than ourselves. We welcome someone reaching out to touch us… to motivate us… to inspire us to the actions for which we yearn.
I love the definition of philanthropy coined by Bob Payton, professor emeritus at The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, as “voluntary action for the public good.” Every word has impact. Philanthropy is voluntary; not coerced. It’s action; time or money given, and it’s directed towards the public good. In other words, it’s not about money. It’s about helping.
Philanthropy is based in values.
Fundraising “isn’t a simple process of begging — it’s a process of transferring the importance of the project to the donor.”
— Hank Rosso
- All organizations exist within a universe of different philanthropic values.
- The process of ‘development’ uncovers folks who share the values your organization enacts.
- Fundraising matches the donor who shares those values with the organization that enacts them.
Presto! You’ve suddenly shown others the path to be the change they want to be in the world.
That’s why “fundraisers” are such superstars. Fundraisers are the catalysts who make change happen.
Do you see the difference between fundraising and philanthropy?
How would you help your board members to get over the fundraising taboo? This workbook may help: Get Your Solicitors and Donors Ready for the Major Gifts Ask.
If you don’t find it useful, all Clairification products come with a 30-day, no-questions-asked, 100% refund guarantee. I mean it.
Image by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash