How to Overcome the Fear of Fundraising

Feb 23, 2021

Picture this: you’re sitting at work ready to pick up the phone to dial donors, what’s the first word that comes to mind? Nervous, scared, maybe even a little apprehensive? You’re not alone! Even the most seasoned fundraiser can feel nervous or scared when fundraising.  Fear of fundraising stems from four basic places: 

  1. Fear of begging for money
  2. Looking stupid
  3. Fear of rejection
  4. Fear of public speaking

Which area describes you when it comes to fundraising donors? Do you feel fear that you’ll seem like you’re begging for money? Or perhaps, the ultimate form of fear, you’ll be rejected by donors even if you have a close, personal relationship? We’ll address each of these four fears and why you shouldn’t feel any negative emotions when it comes to soliciting donations for your nonprofit organization.

Fear of Begging for Money

Money remains the number one taboo subject in our culture. People have a deep-rooted psychological aversion to talking about money – whether that’s talking about your salary, mortgage payment, or birthday money you received from your grandparents – we don’t like money talk. When money is part of the conversation, we tend to come from a place of ‘no’. And people think fundraising is all about money, which, of course, is further from the truth.

When you stop to think about it, no one donates $1,000 of their hard-earned money because they don’t have another place to spend it. It’s not about the money – it’s about what you’ll be able to do with that donation. In other words, it’s about the impact.

To move past the fear that you seem like you’re begging, you must retire the tin cup mindsets of fundraising. You aren’t asking possible donors to give you money for personal use, you’re offering them the opportunity to make an impact that aligns with their values and vision for a better world. Giving them this opportunity – to find greater meaning and purpose – is priceless.

Fear of Looking Stupid

The fear of looking stupid goes beyond just soliciting donations for an organization. We often face this fear in any given situation – public speaking, board meetings, or even simple conversations with colleagues. Even if you don’t know all the nitty gritty details of every program your organization offers, it’s ok! No one needs to know everything, it’s not the facts and figures that motivate donors to contribute.

Instead, substitute the passion you have for accurate data to give a compelling argument. As long as you, staff, or a volunteer believe in the mission and walks the talk (by giving before asking), that’s all that you need. It’s not so much what you say, but how you say it. Connecting with your passion for your cause is more important than memorizing every detail of every program or initiative. In fact, a volunteer can do something a paid staff member can’t do – offer persuasive testimonial that serves as the ‘social proof’ that your organization is impactful, necessary, and effective.

Remember, when speaking with others, you can always get back to donor prospects with more information later. Never be afraid to admit you don’t know something! If you find yourself unable to answer a question try responding with, “That’s a great question! I don’t know the answer, but I’ll find out for you and get right back to you. Or if you’d like, I can set up a meeting with our program director.” Not only does this statement address their question, but pivots the conversation to something you can follow-on a few days later. If anything, this is a pretty smart way of handling this situation!

Fear of Rejection

Rejection is a fear we face every day.

What if my program proposal is rejected?

What if my colleagues don’t agree with our new goals?

What if my partner doesn’t want to go to that new restaurant?

The fear of rejection is an ever present feeling that ultimately ties back to the feeling that you’re begging for donations. We don’t like to ask for help, but remember, you’re not asking for yourself in these situations.

If your prospect says ‘no’, it’s ok. There could be a variety of reasons why a donor ultimately declines to donate to your organization. Your mission may not align with their vision, they could have other philanthropic interests, or they simply don’t have the financial capability at this time. Shake off the rejection and focus on the next donor meeting and offer your philanthropic opportunity to someone else who may be more receptive and willing to contribute. Not every call or meeting will end in a successful donation, and it’s important to remember that!

Fear of Public Speaking

We touched lightly on public speaking underneath the fear of looking stupid. When it comes time for your pitch, it can almost feel like a spotlight is shining on you. Sounds slightly uncomfortable, right? When we analyze why we hold this fear, it likely comes from a fear of being ostracized. You say one wrong thing and suddenly you’re on the outskirts of the conversation. The best way to overcome a fear of public speaking is simply ‘fake it til you make it’.  When you exude confidence in your pitch and more importantly, the data to support it, you’ll be surprised at how much easier it gets to speak publicly!

A great exercise to overcoming the various forms of fears is Seth Godin’s, ‘What if you pretended, just for a little while..’

What if you acted as if?

What if you pretended that you were glad to see me, happy to deliver this service, eager for it to be well received?

What if you acted as though you were more charismatic than you feel–more confident, more competent?

What if you demonstrated optimism about what’s about to happen next, even if you’re not sure?

It takes effort, more than most of us can expend day in and day out.

But what if you invested that effort, just for a little while?

It’s entirely possible that acting as if would actually create the very outcome you’re hoping for.

As you venture into the next round of fundraising for your organization, don’t walk in the door saying, “I’m the last person you want to see.” Don’t think to yourself, “I’m not going to be able to make this happen.” Instead, remember that you’re not asking for donations for personal use, you’re asking to help your organization’s mission to make your community – and ultimately the world – a better place. Replace your ‘you, me, I’ language with ‘us and we’ language and watch your fundraising soar!

When you dig down into the love of your mission and speak from the heart, there’s nothing to be afraid of. Philanthropy, not fundraising, will shift you from feeling negative to feeling positive about this process.

Remember: Fundraising is about Relationship-Building

When relationships are in place, the solicitation discussion – including the ask for funding – will come naturally and will not be unexpected. Make sure that the prospect has received and reviewed all relevant information, collateral, and content before your meeting – you’ll want to be able to ask if they have any questions about the initiative for which you’re asking for funding. And, if there are any questions for which you don’t have the answers, it may be advisable to delay until the prospect has all of the requested information.

When you bring the right additional people into the relationship – this will accomplish two important things:

  • Leverage additional (and possibly even better) relationships to pave the way toward your goal
  • Help share the responsibility so that it’s not just all on you. It’s important to understand that the fear of fundraising is not only fear of rejection, but also fear of consequences of not getting the gift commitment.

If, even after the meeting, the solicitation or ask timing is ‘wrong’, it probably is. Continue to steward and cultivate and build the relationship – until you get the timing right. Philanthropic work is not something accomplished overnight, it’s a slow burn of cultivating relationships over time that’s built on trust and communication in your organization’s mission.

Easier said than done, but don’t allow yourself to be pressured into making an ask prematurely – for most nonprofits with major gifts programs, missing a quarterly or even an annual target is not as profound as leaving money on the table 

In Case You Missed It:

Missed our latest 20-minute coffee talk on this topic? You’re in luck! You can watch, or re-watch, the webinar recording here.