Getting Over the Fear of Asking

Dear Kim:

I have been asked to serve on a board of directors three different times for organizations that I care about. I have said no because I cannot see myself fulfilling my fundraising responsibilities. I know that there are a variety of ways to be involved in fundraising, but they all seem to come down to some kind of asking for money, which is really hard for me. But I don’t want to spend my life not being involved in things because of my “asking phobia.” Can you help me get over it?

~Ready for Change

Dear Change:

As they say in every self help program on every possible topic, the first step is admitting you have a problem, which you have done. Please also know that you are joined by millions of others who feel or have felt similarly. I started fundraising 30 years ago, and I felt the way you do, with decreasing intensity, for several years. The following are five steps for getting over your anxiety about asking. We need people like you and I really hope you can use these steps to enable you to join a Board of Directors for an organization you care about.

1) Put yourself in the donor’s shoes. You may not like asking, but that doesn’t mean the donor doesn’t want to be asked. Most people like to be seen as helpful and generous. They like to be included. Sometimes organizations go out of business and people around the organization will say, “I never knew they were in trouble. Why didn’t they ask for help?” Once a close friend of the Chair of the Board of a failing group told me, “I would help if he would ask, but I get the feeling that he doesn’t want my help. Maybe what I have to give isn’t good enough.” There are way more hurt feelings from not being included and not being asked than there ever will be from being asked.

2) You must ask way more people than the number of gifts you need. Most people, when offered the opportunity to give money to your group, will say no. They may say no directly, “No, I can’t help you.” They may say no by never responding to your letters or calls or by saying, “I’ll think about it” and never getting back to you, but somehow they will say no. Usually about half the people you ask for money personally (that is, you know them and they know you and you ask them by phone or in person) will give you money.

3) It has to be OK with you for people to say no. In fact, you should think of a “no” as a good thing–as putting you one step closer to a “yes.” Your job is to invite someone to give to your group. The person being invited may either accept or decline or take a rain check. What they do will depend on their mood, their financial circumstances, their other commitments, their confidence or lack of in the future–many variables which you can’t do anything about and which are not about you.

4) What you believe in has to be bigger than what you are afraid of. If you don’t like asking for money, or you would rather not do it, or you wish someone else would do it for you, that is normal. That is how most people are. Money is a loaded subject, full of meanings that are way beyond the item itself. You can spend a lot of time analyzing what you don’t like about asking for money and that will be time well spent. But if you don’t have the time, or you have spent the time and you still don’t feel good about asking for money, I suggest you think about what is going to happen if you don’t ask anyone for money. What will happen to your organization? Does it matter if your organization goes out of business? If it matters to you, then put that first, ahead of your anxiety about asking. There is an old fundraising saying, “If you are afraid to ask for money, kick yourself out of the way and let the cause talk.”

5) You will need to ask some people, but you don’t need to ask everyone. Many people never get out of the starting gate because they think they have to ask everyone they know. They then imagine asking their neighbor or their ex-husband or their Aunt Mildred, and how awful that would be. Don’t ask people that you have a hard relationship with or that don’t believe in your cause. Start with someone very easy: yourself. Make our own gift first. Then go to friends and family members who you like and who like you, and who agree with the cause you represent. If you really don’t like to ask people you know, then ask people you don’t know–donors to the organization who you have not met, or donors to another organization similar to yours.

Tape these five points above your desk, on your bathroom mirror, write them in your calendar or iPhone. Read them when you wake up and when you go to sleep. Start every meeting by reminding each person of these five points. Within a week, you will be 50% more comfortable about asking for money and in two weeks, another 50% more. The more you ask, also the more comfortable you will get. Also, amazingly, the more you ask, the more money you will get.