Fundraising Fears? How To Get Over Them
There are two types of fundraisers: those who are professional fundraisers (chose to build a career in fundraising) and those who fundraise off of the side of their desk, along with the many other tasks they have to do on a daily basis to keep their organization running (hopefully smoothly).
Of those who do it off of the side of their desk, the vast majority do not like fundraising. I repeat — they do not like fundraising. They know the need to do it, but I’ve heard many of them use the term “necessary evil” to describe fundraising. Yes, it’s the “F” word of the nonprofit sector. Let’s call these folks reluctant fundraisers. These can be executive directors, other staff members, board members or even volunteers.
To unlock the potential of reluctant fundraisers, we need to understand how their brains are keeping them safe and comfortable, and rewire the neural shortcuts toward fundraising success.
Approximately 90% of the decisions we make are unconscious. It’s estimated that we make 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day, which represents only 10% of the decisions our brains are making. Our brain simplifies complex decisions into shortcuts or neural pathways. This allows those decisions to be made faster and with less effort, preserving your brain’s energy for more important things. These shortcuts are developed over time through repetition and fundamentally serve to keep you safe.
So, what things are repeated over and over again in fundraising, so much so that they have become our mental shortcuts? What does harm look like when it comes to fundraising? Is it the anguish of being rejected? The risk of hurting a friendship? Just the discomfort of trying something new?
There are also patterns to how our brains keep us safe. For example, our brain overemphasizes negative things and underemphasizes the positive. We have a human tendency to fixate on the negative. And what you focus on is what gets amplified. Perhaps you send an email to your email list and one person responds saying, “You email me too much.” However, as a result of you sending the one email, 100 people donate. That’s a massive positive! However, your mind will tend to focus on that one negative comment that will far outweigh the success we have. We start doubting ourselves — should we ask less? Too many emails? Yikes, people are going to start unsubscribing. You might have just raised $1,000 but that one negative gets amplified in our brains.
Our brains are actively seeking information that supports our existing beliefs, and will actively ignore information that is not congruent. This is called confirmation bias. I’ve seen so many folks who believe they don’t know how to fundraise or that they’re not good at it. Hence, their brain is searching for evidence to support that bias and will ignore any evidence that contradicts it.
There is a lot that hinders our fundraising success before we ever engage with potential donors. However, the sooner we begin to identify these patterns, the sooner we can start rewiring them and write a new story.
Rewiring these shortcuts requires the same repetition that created them in the first place. First, identify what are the existing beliefs and feelings that are holding you back in fundraising. Then, identify one or two things you can do on a daily basis to start to shift those beliefs. If you’re not sure, I have a few daily habit recommendations. Block in your calendar 30 minutes each day to work on fundraising. Here is what you are going to do with that time:
- Visualization and journaling for five minutes
- Practice your story for five minutes
- Book donor meetings for 10 minutes
- Practice stewardship for 10 minutes
Work on these for at least 70 days consistently and you will start to create new, dominant neural pathways that put you on a path to fundraising success.
Cindy Wagman is the president and founder of The Good Partnership, a values-driven, social-justice informed consultancy that is working to unlock the potential of small nonprofits through fundraising. Cindy became a Certified Fundraising Executive in 2009 and received her MBA from the Rotman School at the University of Toronto in 2013. Cindy is the host of The Small Nonprofit podcast, Canada’s No. 1 podcast for charities and bestselling author of "Raise It! The Reluctant Fundraiser’s Guide to Raising Money Without Selling Your Soul."