What are we afraid of?
I won’t lie. Face-to-face fundraising can be scary at first. I am an introvert, and I avoided asking people for a long time, preferring instead to write grants and fill out paperwork and send appeal letters. But, as the cloying cliche goes, practice makes perfect. And thus it was with me.
It took me a long time to realize what my problem was. I knew lots of people who asked, and had been asking for years. They were dynamic, they were successful—what was my problem? With a little introspection, I analyzed my situation and discovered the culprit:
I have a different personality type than the other askers I knew.
Most of them were outgoing, gregarious, vibrant and confident. On the contrary, I am a relatively quiet person, who can seem bubbly amongst people I know well, or when I am “fak(ing) it until I make it.” I am at my best among my colleagues, or among people who put forth the vibe of being even more scared or inexperienced than I am. But I am also a person who needs a ton of information to act and make the right decision. I often decided based on instinct, but my instincts are formed by learning as much as I can about a topic before presenting it.
(Asking Matters does a great job providing asking resources that highlight the differences between asking personalities. I’m a cross between “Kindred Spirit” and “Mission Controller.”)
There is nothing wrong with knowing enough about yourself to know how you like to ask. I learned from Gretchen Rubin that surgeons are allowed to have a “preference card,” which lists their setup requirements for the surgeries for which they are responsible. Why not develop one of these for yourself? My (somewhat abbreviated) preference card would look like this:
Kylie prefers to have:
- A good night’s sleep.
- An “ask outfit” consisting of wrinkle-free, pleasantly coordinated items and tasteful accessories.
- Shaved legs. (Don’t laugh; even Isaac Mizrahi agrees that it makes women feel more confident, no matter what they’re wearing.)
- A complete research dossier on the prospect to be asked.
- A thorough history of the cultivation of that prospect, and why they would care about our project or mission.
- A clean, attractive, fully updated case book with no typos or loused-up formatting, housed in a binder and plastic sheet covers.
- Numbers slides that are checked for errors beforehand.
- A thorough knowledge of each of the items that are described in the case book.
- An asking partner (if applicable; I like asking in pairs) who is pleasant and articulate, and enthusiastic about our cause.
- The promise of a toasted almond iced coffee with cream after the ask, whether I get a yes, or a no (which is usually a maybe anyway).
Once you have these things, you may realize that, for the most part, the person who can make them happen is you.
If you are leading a team of askers, or training others to ask, it may be helpful to them to think through what “requirements” they would have. Once they realize that those preparation steps are taken care of, they will feel more secure. Some may never feel comfortable making the ask itself; they are still great to have along to tell their stories or illustrate why they gave.
It helps to take worry out of the equation. Though it is tempting to hold onto in and hug it close, worry is the #1 cause of fear. How will the person answer? What will I do if they say no? What if they think I am awkward or inarticulate? Will they think less of me for “bothering” them with this? The key is to square your shoulders, make the best case you can, and be confident that you did your best. In reality, the rest is out of your hands. Gird your loins for a short time, think about how you would react if you weren’t afraid, arm yourself with information, and do it.
Another liberating thing that my boss once told me was that, when I was asking, I “was just doing my job.” My job is to build the relationships and secure the funds to accomplish our mission. No matter the outcome, if I am making a call or an ask or a dreaded follow-up on a delayed pledge payment, I am just doing my job. When I have to be the one who makes the ask with a volunteer solicitor who isn’t comfortable doing so, I can bite the bullet and do it because it’s my job. It gives me strength to remember why I’m here and what I am accomplishing when all is said and done. In the great scheme of things, a few nos are not going to sink the ship. Do what you can to stem them, but don’t take them to heart or beat yourself up afterwards.
Here are a few other resources that may help you put your fear in perspective:
- Scared to Ask? Getting Started with Face-to-Face Fundraising by Amy Eisenstein (Tri-Point Fundraising)
- Five Ways to Beat the Fear of Fundraising by Craig Grella (i Start a Nonprofit)
- Getting Over the Fear of Asking by Kim Klein
- Fundraising Isn’t for Fraidy Cats by Sandy Rees (Get Fully Funded)
Were you scared to ask at one time? Are you still scared? Join the discussion—we can all learn from each other.
Posted on March 7, 2013, in Developing Relationships, Donor Relations, Donors, Prospect Research, The Ask and tagged Asking, Asking Matters, Fear, fundraising, Gretchen Rubin, Isaac Mizrahi, Nonprofit organization, Preference card, The Happiness Project, Worry. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.