… and living to tell the tale
Sometimes the enormity of a project can be so daunting that even the thought of getting started is enough to make your knees knock. Whether it’s setting up a big fundraising effort or building a new program from scratch, the fear of rejection, failure, or being ostracized can really slow you down. And sometimes, your support comes from unexpected places.
I hear it all the time — “I hate to fundraise.”
One thing I hear all the time is “I hate to fundraise.” I nod in sympathy, having been there myself countless times. “No,” I’m told, “you don’t understand. I’m no good at fundraising. I can’t do it. I just can’t ask people for money.” Well, I have a confession. I say the same things.
When I first started consulting after working as a director of fundraising for several organizations, I joined an established consulting company. When that company closed my friend Breandan asked me if I was going to set up my own shop and rule my destiny. (My friends tend to be big thinkers, too).
Setting up my own company?
I was stumped! “No way,” I replied. “I can’t build a company! I don’t even know where to start or who to build it for. And most of all,” I told her, “there’s no way I could get clients. I mean how do I go about letting people know how I could help?
I just can’t come straight out and ask people to pay. I get all heebidy jeebidy just thinking about it.” She cocked her head, wrinkled her nose, and said in her best what-are-you-trying-to-pull voice — “Really? You have asked people for millions of dollars and you are worried about asking for a sale?”
“It’s different,” I wailed. “I don’t know where to start, what I need to do. I mean this is ME out there asking!”
“Jeez,” she grumbled and rolled her eyes. “Don’t be such a drama queen. Of course you know how to begin and what to do. Is what you’re doing important? When you started fundraising did you say ‘Gee, I think I’ll go into fundraising. It looks like fun?’ I don’t think so.”
When I got started working with nonprofits I actually set out to avoid fundraising. It was definitely not what I wanted to do and I felt it was better left to others, who were, after all, much more suited to the task. As I thought about Breandan’s question I remembered that I had made the exact same statements about fundraising.
“Look,” she said. “Don’t worry, I’ll help.” Well that brought me up short. Could I strike out on my own? Was I ready? Could I launch a new company like I had launched hundreds of successful fundraising efforts? I wasn’t too sure.
“Here’s the outline of a course I use to teach people how to be rainmakers. In this list of topics, do you see any similar processes you use when working with people in nonprofits?” I looked over Breandan’s outline and thought I could see the parallels.
The more I looked the more I translated what I saw into a nonprofit context, a language I knew well. It looked like I might be able to build an independent company much like I would build a fundraising campaign. I was willing to give it a try if Breandan was willing to help me stay on course.
Building the company one step at a time
Over the next year I worked through the steps to build my company as I would a successful fundraising effort. I wrote out the mission, assembled a draft of the case, and then tested the case in the community. I ran a planning study to gather advice and insight about what the community was interested in and what they would support. I talked with community leaders and asked them who I should talk to. And I recruited my team of leaders. Together, we invited people to attend Ask Masters workshops and by the end of that first year we had more than 50 people in the program.
And every step of the way Breandan was there to prop me up, push me through, hold my hand and cheer me on.
So yes, I really do understand what it is like to fear fundraising. So much that I created a whole webinar called “Just Don’t Make Me Fundraise!” that gives you three essential secrets to conquering your fear of fundraising and moving on to raise big money for your cause. The webinar is part four of Mosaic’s free Fundraising Accelerator program that begins at the end of August.
If you’d like to catch the session, sign up here. I’ve worked with lots of people just like me with big trepidations who take a deep breath, close their eyes, hold my hand and jump. Just like I held Breandan’s hand.