The Everyman Fear: How to Overcome the Fear and Embrace Asking for Money
Ask anyone to help fundraise for your favorite cause or charity and the reaction is likely to be somewhere between mild anxiety and outright terror. Why? Such a reaction is almost always born out of an inadequate or misinformed understanding of what constitutes "fundraising."
In my 25 years of involvement with philanthropy professionally, when volunteers and professionals think of fundraising they almost invariably think of that moment when an "ask" is made. Whether through the mail, e-mail, social media or the dreaded face-to-face meeting, the act of asking for money sends chills up the spine and tremors of fear through the limbs.
The subject I am most often asked to speak about and offer guidance on is that of solicitation, the actual "ask." I am very quick to point out that the act of a gift solicitation is but one small part of the effort to acquire a new investor or renew an existing commitment. Yes, yes, many respond but — there is still the ask. Clearly, there are those who would rather share intimate details of their lives rather than ask for money. Why?
Too many of us equate fundraising with begging or, at best, buying and selling. When we approach another seeking a gift, we see it as taking from that person — extracting something that without significant, undue influence or the promise of a material return, this person would not otherwise give. Nothing could be further from the truth. Individuals who are philanthropic, and more than 70 percent of Americans make charitable gifts (upward of 90 percent as incomes rise), do so to improve the lives of others and make their communities better places to live.
So why do we persist in seeing fundraising as "taking"? The predominance of transactional approaches to fundraising — auctions, galas, product sales — certainly contributes to that perception. Even the techniques employed in many direct asks — asking directly for a gift, per se — are often about little more than "getting the gift" and then moving to the next "prospect." More fundamental, perhaps, is a widespread lack of understanding of why donors make gifts in the first place.