5.26 The Vulnerability of the Ask

Sometimes you can only learn the hard way. The fundraising training and call night we’d carefully planned a few weeks fell flat when hardly anyone signed up to join us.

We had come up with a great idea. A good friend and fan of the organization offered to share her considerable skills as a grassroots fundraiser and trainer. She designed the training in partnership with us and helped us create the needed materials. Our job was to develop our internal lists and get an enthusiastic band of 30-40 volunteers on board. We sent a “shout out” to our entire email list and got hardly any responses. Personal phone calls followed from staff and board.

I thought because so many people believe in what we’re doing and support it financially, they’d have few qualms about picking up the phone and inviting others to join them. A few folks did respond positively but only a few. So we went back to the drawing board. Alice Walker, among many others, has said, “There are no failures, just lessons.”

It got me to thinking about vulnerability, resiliency, and how they play out in our fundraising work. I’ve been chewing on this lately since I’ve been reading the work of sociologist Brené Brown on shame and how we can build what she calls “shame resilience.”

Brown describes shame as an intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging. I think this is what can arise when we ask others for money. And it’s understandable; most of us carry some fear of rejection and asking for money certainly carries its share of “no.” If we ask and no gift comes, it’s too easy to take that as an indictment of our work or ourselves, even when intellectually we know how many other factors are in play.

Thankfully, Brown believes we can create “shame resilience” by recognizing what triggers shame, moving through the experience with compassion, and growing from it. Instead of hiding from what might cause vulnerability, we can acknowledge it. There’s nothing wrong with owning a feeling of apprehension or fear that is making its way through your body, heart or head anyway. It can be as simple as naming the twinge in the belly or the slight tightening in the chest whenever you get ready to make an ask. Once it’s named, a personal experience can then be linked to the global, because the truth is, feeling vulnerable is about as normal as it gets.

Oh and the fundraising call night? We rescheduled it for three weeks from now and we’re asking ally organizations to send a team of folks to go through the training and help make calls. We’ll see how it goes!