How to End Your Board’s Fear of Fundraising Once and For All in 2 Easy Steps

Line drawing of gopher begging
      Why are trustees so nervous about fundraising? I’ve found there are two key reasons.  Understand these reasons, and we can put an end to the fears in two easy steps.
ONE: Overcome Fear of Rejection.  We think we’re asking for ourselves; begging. We’ve been raised that it’s impolite to talk about money.  Even worse, no one wants to be a ‘charity case.’
To help board members face this fear head-on, I ask them in a group session: “When did you give when you felt bad afterwards?” 

I encourage them to share all their stories about guilt, peer pressure, strong arm tactics, etc. and get all their bad energy about fundraising out on the table.  Folks go to town on this one!  Among the most common negative responses:
·        Firefighters. People fear that if they don’t buy tickets to the firefighters’ event then they may be in jeopardy in the event of an alarm.  They give.  But they don’t feel warm and fuzzy about it.
·        Not my interest. Sometimes a friend asks for a gift to a charity about which we care not one whit.  We’re too embarrassed to confess. We fear if we ask a friend to support our charity the same feelings will be engendered.  But just because we don’t get jazzed about rain forests (and they do) does not mean that we both don’t get jazzed about saving whales. We forget to allow for the possibility that our friend might actually agree with the values enacted by our organization and might relish the opportunity to tender support — given half a chance.
·        Small stuff. The boxes of cookies, chocolate bars and magazine subscriptions we don’t want.  We don’t feel terrible about this, but it doesn’t make us feel inspired either.
The reasons donors end up feeling bad about giving can be categorized as:
1.      Was coerced
2.      Felt guilty
3.      Didn’t really care about the cause
4.      Wasn’t thanked; didn’t feel appreciated
5.      Didn’t see the impact of my gift
6.      Felt it was just a drop in the bucket
7.      Didn’t feel they really needed the money
Now that all the negatives have been explored, I ask: “When did you give when you felt good afterwards?” Among the most common positive responses:
·        Giving back. Usually where they or a family member or friend were helped.
·        I’m involved.  It’s where they volunteer. Or their kid goes to school.
·        I felt appreciated. They were promptly and personally thanked and also updated on the impact of their gift.
The reasons donors end up feeling good about giving can be categorized as:
1.      Felt part of something important
2.      Felt proud
3.      Felt joyous
4.      Wished I could do more
5.      Was giving back; paying forward
6.      Met my religious/moral obligation
7.      Saw the impact of my gift
Then I remind folks that these are the same emotions other donors feel when they give money. When a donor makes a gift, he or she becomes a partner in a cause that is bigger than just one person’s life. It’s a way for them to be the change they want to see in the world – and the ‘asker’ facilitates this amazing accomplishment!
You see, as it turns out, if you’re asking for a charity you trust, for a cause you really believe in, for an organization making a demonstrable impact, then these fears of rejection and feelings that one is begging are pretty easy to overcome.
graphic of man with question mark
TWO: Overcome Fear of Lack of Knowledge/Skills. Too often board members do not fully understand their organization, the impact it makes, or its mission well enough to talk about it. They don’t know how to be articulate spokespeople for their organization. We give our board members plenty of materials, but often it’s not the right information or is too full of jargon for board members to use effectively.  Before you even bring up the topic of fundraising, your trustees have to be engaged, active, excited and involved. This may mean involving them in some planning exercises to assure they are aligned about mission , vision and values.
There are a lot of scary problems out there.
Homelessness… Global warming… Domestic violence… Human trafficking… Malaria… Impotable water… Cancer… Injustice… Poverty.
Is fundraising  scarier than doing what needs to be done to solve these problems?
How do you help your board overcome their fears?



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About Claire

I’m Claire and I want to help you raise more money, reach more people and build long-lasting relationships with your supporters. Take a look in the archives.


  1. Great post, Clair. I find many board members resist fund raising because they believe that it means soliciting at the same time they are introducing prospects to an organization. This is what selling tickets to a gala often is, but it is never part of an effective cultivation program.

    The best technique I have seen provides each board member with a portfolio of donors & prospects. No rush to solicitation, just an exploration of interest and exposure to the good work of the organization.

  2. Thanks for the comment Paul. We absolutely must set our board members up for success. If we want them to make an ask, we should not make an assignment of someone who is not yet ready to be asked. If we do, we're setting up a vicious cycle of negative experiences — for both prospect/donor and volunteer.

  3. I find board members are scared to lose/risk friendships for all the reasons you have shared in this post. I am working with a board member who is inviting 10 couples to tour our shelter and have lunch. We will have a small presentation and introduce them to our work. I sent him an email so the board member knew what to expect in the meeting.

    We never ask for dollars in a meeting where a board member is present unless the board member is comfortable and their is an extreme need. We do everything to safeguard the donor and board member. After the tour, we call each attendee to thank them for coming and see if their is interest in a followup meeting/action. We believe in a soft approach. This is one approach we have with board members and friendraising. This approach takes patience but has had great results.

  4. It's definitely a process. Yet it's important to guide our volunteers through the forest so they can actually see the 'big picture' and not get lost in the trees. When we think it's just about asking for money, and lose sight of the fact that it's about facilitating philanthropy — voluntary action for the public good — then we become paralyzed. Once folks understand the bigger picture it becomes a lot easier. And taking folks on a tour is a fabulous way to put them into a positive, big context frame of mind. Thanks!

  5. Some good points here, I completely agree. It is all about softening the process so asking for £ is understood as part of a bigger picture, and providing a variety of ways for trustees to play a role that plays to their strengths. I have written about this in a bit more detail in my blog but essentially we make similar points. Senior volunteers are so valuable in fundraising if handled with care!

  6. Thanks Victoria. I guess brilliant minds think alike!

  7. Wonderful points, Claire. I would add that it's OK for board members to admit during the ask that they are uncomfortable with fundraising. They could say something like, "I can tell you that I don't like fundraising and that it's difficult for me. However, I feel so strongly about this cause that I'll push myself beyond my comfort zone." I know this won't work in every scenario, but I think people crave honesty.

  8. I don't think this is just a fundraising problem but a human-nature problem. It's very tricky to have that conversation but you're absolutely right, the only way around it is to be totally passionate about what you're making the ask for. Great post!

  9. Human nature definitely is part of the equation. That's why we say "people give to people." We must never forget who we're dealing with. :-) Thanks!

  10. Great ideas Claire. The only thing I add to the process you outline is to provide training for the people who will be inviting prospects/donors for a gift. This often takes many forms (apprenticing with a more experienced volunteer, role-playing, etc) but I never allow a board member to go out on their own until he or she (and I) are comfortable. It takes time to learn how to do it well. When I've taken the time to train new board members carefully, they have always surprised me with their enthusiasm and dedication. There's nothing quite like an enthused volunteer!

  11. Absolutely agree Clay. I like to hold "inspiration sessions" or "igniting philanthropy" sessions rather then "fundraising trainings", which tend to scare people off.


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