Snakes… Public Speaking… Fundraising

Your trustees love the mission. They can quote the case for support. They are all generous donors. They set ambitious fundraising goals and promise to help solicit the people they know. So why aren’t they out there asking?

They are afraid of fundraising, with good reason. Asking peers for money has real risks, no matter how compelling the cause. Here are the top three things trustees (and other volunteers) put at risk by fundraising, and what you can do about them.

  • Reciprocity. Trustees fear the social obligation that comes with securing a gift as a personal favor. When trustees think they must trade on their influence within their social and business circles, they naturally expect to be pressured in like wise. Further, they anticipate how hard it will be to decline a reciprocal request. Counter this fear by having trustees consider whether a connection to the organization will provide some personal satisfaction to a prospective donor. Asking only those who have a real interest in the organization – independent of who is asking – will ensure that any need for reciprocity (“stewardship” in fundraising parlance) is answered by the organization, not the trustee.
  • Reputation. Trustees fear appearing incompetent in front of their peers. A face-to-face solicitation meeting will likely be unfamiliar to most trustees, feeding this anxiety. The promise of a team approach can compound this fear when their partner is not well known to them: the actions of their co-solicitor can cast them in a poor light just as surely as their own. Counter this fear first by soliciting them in just the way you want them to solicit other prospective donors. Trustees need to see best practices in relationship-based fundraising modeled to them in their own dealings with the organization. Second, trustees need time to get to know and trust the fundraiser before they can be expected to work effectively together. Last, all trustees should have the benefit of general solicitation training and a “dress rehearsal” of the specific strategy for every solicitation meeting.
  • Relationships. Trustees fear that asking for support will harm their relationships. They imagine that they will afterward be seen as a “beggar” – submissively weak – or a “gunner” – inappropriately aggressive. Counter this fear by recasting the role of the trustee in solicitations as a “matchmaker” – bringing together two mutually attracted parties for the benefit of both. Further, as a trustee they are acting as a representative of the organization, not on their own behalf. A statement near the beginning of a solicitation that “I’m here today in my role as a trustee” can be an effective verbal shield.

Just as giving can be joyful, so can asking. First, we have to acknowledge the understandable fears trustees – and even professional fundraisers – feel when they take the personal risk of soliciting their peers. Fundraising may never rank with raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, but addressing these fears can make it a deeply gratifying experience.