The Organizer #4 | Fundraising

How do I get over my fundraising fears? Fear is completely normal in this line of work. First, recognize what thoughts or habits are making fundraising feel hard. Then build new routines or develop skills to help you build confidence. When in doubt, find a community of peers to inspire you.

Why you dread fundraising, and how to stop it

Charitable organizations take twice as much work as other organizations.

That’s the one thing every board member, donor, and outsider should know about nonprofit life.

Maybe you already know it because you’ve already lived it.

A charity’s core work is its social impact programs and campaigns. You have to run those programs well and ensure they meet your community’s needs. That’s job #1.

Meanwhile, you also have to justify the organization’s work to a second group of constituents — funders. You need to convince them the work is worthy of financial support. You need to report back to them so they know how their funds were spent. You need to explain the impact you’ve achieved to people who don’t experience it themselves. That’s job #2.

So a charity is actually two organizations running in parallel — one that delivers social impact, and another that builds and engages a constituency of funders.

Come for the cause

Most people are drawn to nonprofit work because of a cause. A particular issue motivates them to act (like environmental protection or food insecurity).

Through no fault of their own, many people enter this sector under-equipped for the fundraising obligations. What looked like one of several responsibilities is actually a huge part of your workload. This is especially true at small and young organizations where people aren’t specialized or there is no established path to success.

If you feel this pressure, you’re not alone. Most nonprofit leaders say fundraising is the toughest part of the job right now.

Stay for the challenge

There are loads of articles and courses to teach you fundraising skills, but they mostly focus on technical things like how to write a grant proposal. They’re helpful, but incomplete.

If you’re dreading your fundraising tasks this week or if you’ve conveniently scheduled them for “later”, this one’s for you.

My gift to you today is to say out loud (by which I mean in writing), some of the real, embarrassing, icky, deeply personal reasons that fundraising sometimes feels hard. If we can’t crack the fundraising challenge, we can’t build equitable, sustainable communities. So let’s get honest.

The real reasons people dread fundraising

Many of the reasons people dread fundraising have nothing to do with skill or experience. They’re personal. Fundraising summons up all kinds of baggage and insecurities and gross realities about the way the world “works”.

You know what I mean if you’ve ever said or heard things like this:

“I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“I can’t handle rejection.”

“I don’t have the right personality to fundraise”

“I feel uncomfortable around some donors”

These are some of the real reasons fundraising can feel hard. Here’s what to do about it.

What to do about dread

When you think you don’t know how to fundraise

Fundraising is extremely simple: you ask people to give you money. That’s it.

The “hard” part is knowing who to ask, when to ask, what to ask for, how much money to ask for, and how to get the ask in front of someone. That comes with time, data, and experience. The only way to “know how” to fundraise is to do it.

In other words, maybe you don’t know how to fundraise yet, but you will get there. Spend time this week focused on the first thing you “don’t know” — create a list of potential donors, practice your pitch, refine your budget, read some grant-writing tutorials, etc. Once you break fundraising down into specific activities, it becomes less mysterious.

When you are afraid of rejection

The only way to raise money is to not raise money. Before you hear a “yes” from a donor, you have to hear a bunch of “nos”.

True, rejection hurts. If you’re organization operates on a shoestring, it can be scary. But there is no rejection-free way to navigate nonprofit life.

If it helps, just remember that every “no” you hear puts you one step closer to your next (or first) “yes”. If this is a major barrier for you, commit now to making 1,2, or 3 asks this week knowing that you’ll probably hear a no. Practice being rejected until it doesn’t seem so personal.

When you think you don’t have the “right” personality

The ideal fundraiser is a fantasy. There isn’t one “right” way to fundraise. There isn’t just one type of person who can raise money.

Different approaches need different talents and skillsets. For example, a grantwriter uses different skills than a digital marketer who uses different skills from an event planner. Don’t get caught up believing you need to change your personality to fit some model. Instead, try fundraising in ways that fit with your skills and talents.

When in doubt, put your love for your cause front and centre.

When some donors make you uncomfortable

Fundraising poses unique challenges for women and people of colour. You may dread fundraising because it means you have to interact with people who demean, belittle, or discriminate against you. You may dread it because you know you have to work harder and longer to raise the funds your program needs. If this is the case, you deserve better.

There is an outdated notion in the nonprofit world that people in this sector must sacrifice their dignity for some “greater good”. The next wave of fundraising professionals is actively rebelling against that mindset.

All organizations should be talking about this internally and creating supportive environments for their team.

Join a community of peers

If you want a deeper connection to people in the fundraising space, spend a few minutes this week scouting the various fundraising networks and podcasts you can find online.

Personally, I recommend the Community-Centric Fundraising Slack group. It’s free. It’s friendly. It’s new-school. It’s an immediate connection. (You can find me in the Montreal and Toronto groups, by the way.)

How to join the Community-Centric Fundraising community

  • Go to the CCF homepage
  • Scroll down until you see the button that says “Join Slack”.
  • Follow the prompts to connect to Slack. See you there!

When all else fails

If you ever feel self-conscious about your fundraising ideas, just remember that the bar is exceptionally low. Someone on this planet had the courage to pitch a device that helps you lick your own cat, and they raised $50,000 for their effort. There’s the bar. Go leap over it.

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