Halloween Edition: Fear and Fundraising
Fundraising shouldn’t be scary. Nor should it be painful.
In fact, fundraising should — and can — be:
Exhilarating — instead of exhausting.
Gratifying — instead of depressing.
Satisfying — instead of frustrating.
Joyful — instead of painful.
Optimistic — instead of disappointed.
Inspiring — instead of let down.
So why are so many fundraisers frustrated, depressed, and exhausted?
As I’ve discussed in previous newsletters, fundraising for nonprofits is hard work. True. But fundraising for a mission that will help to make the world (or part of the world) better should feel like a privilege. Why? Because a fundraiser has the ability to advance the cause that they care about through their direct efforts. As we all know, fundraising is the lifeblood of nonprofit organizations, and without a good fundraising program, most nonprofits (NPOs) will not be sustainable.
And in order to fundraise successfully — which means being able to support your organization in the long-term — we have the privilege of creating relationships with people who want to help. As a fundraiser, you not only get to meet people who want to do good, but you get to work with them and empower them to use their resources in a way that can be (and often is) life-changing.
Over the last two decades, a great deal of research has been done that concludes that the act of giving provides a myriad of benefits to donors. These benefits include promoting a sense of empathic ability, trust, internal satisfaction, and overall psychological well-being. In fact, a recent Cleveland Clinic article, “Why Giving is Good for Your Health” reports that the act of giving reduces stress, increases lifespan, improves mood, lowers blood pressure, creates a sense of pleasure (via the secretion of dopamine), and also creates a sense of connection with others (via the secretion of oxytocin). Psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD, explains that “Giving can stimulate your brain’s mesolimbic pathway, or reward center, while releasing endorphins. That can lead to a “helper’s high” that boosts self-esteem, elevates happiness and combats feelings of depression.”
So fundraisers get to support important work (the mission/cause) and they also get to help other human beings personally — all via securing a gift from a donor.
But then comes the scary part. Many in the fundraising field are scared of change. Many fundraisers are uncomfortable about money. Many fundraisers are worried about being turned down. Most fundraisers (the research says over 80%) are somewhat or very uncomfortable about asking for operational support when discussing a gift.
Also, many (if not most) fundraisers have been taught to “stay in your lane” and to follow long-established routines — even when they uncover opportunities for developing long and economically fruitful relationships with donors.
This attitude is holding many good fundraisers back in a way that brings nothing good to the nonprofit. The desire on the part of many NPOs to have their front-line fundraisers just “bring back the check” instead of building authentic, mutually successful, long-term donor relationships doesn’t allow a fundraiser to connect with donors in a way that gives both of them the many benefits detailed above.
Going into a donor meeting after being told that “fundraisers don’t talk about themselves” isn’t good for anyone. Being fearful of asking for a gift on a Zoom call because doing so is “off the beaten path” of standard fundraising protocol won’t help the organization meet its numbers.
Fear — the fear of change, the fear of failure, and the fear of speaking up — is wasted energy and serves to hold back our sector from long-term success with individual donors.
One of my favorite examples of how fear gets in the way of good work is when I hear about organizations that have galas just because they don’t want to offend one or two “big” donors who love parties and hate change. Even knowing that producing a gala is an incredibly intense, time-consuming, and costly undertaking, and despite experience that might show that the organization’s past galas haven’t made money (or have lost money), the fear of losing those donors throws good sense out the window. (Note that some organizations still throw galas that are financially successful, but those are far less common.) Good sense would say that recruiting new donors and not burning out staff (or wasting vital resources) are enough reasons to not do the gala, but fear of change gets in the way — again and again.
So on this Halloween holiday, let’s focus on the mission instead of our fear of change. There are donors out there who crave helping, but who won’t give to someone who is afraid to see them as a partner instead of as a “checkbook” (ATM). Getting past the fear of authentic relationships helps the organization, the mission, the fundraiser, and the donor. Let’s throw fear out the window and get to it.