How to Overcome the Money Taboo and Succeed with Fundraising

image of letters spelling out M O N E Y hanging on laundry line
We think asking for money is like hanging our dirty laundry
My last post explored the reasons board members fear fundraising . Most fear of fundraising boils down to two factors: (1) fear of rejection, and (2) fear of looking stupid due to insufficient knowledge/skills. It turns out that these fears are relatively easy to overcome. Seriously. Read the last post.

The hard part is overcoming our deep-rooted psychological aversion to talking about money.  Most of us were raised to believe this is impolite.We’d rather talk about anything else.

Many scholars argue that money is the number one social taboo in America (see also Krueger, The Last Taboo). Even religion, sex and politics are better discussion topics as far as most of us are concerned.

image of book cover The Last Taboo- psychology of talking about money
The Fundraising Taboo
Where money is concerned, we tend to come from a place of “no.”  And people think fundraising is all about money. Here’s what I mean:  Say the word “fundraising” and look at people’s faces.  Their mouths will pucker up in a grimace.  Their eyes will squinch closed as if in pain.  Their brows will furrow.  I recently tried this with a board of directors, asking them each to give me the first word they thought of when they thought of fundraising. Here are the (all) negatives:

Hang up

When viewed as being about money fundraising, at best, is seen as an onerous chore; a necessary evil.  We’ll put it off for as long as possible – sometimes forever. This is why many organizations find themselves in an endless cycle of cultivation, never getting around to the “ask”.  We even get as far as making solicitation assignments to our volunteers, and they often tell us they are willing.  But they back burner the job.  We call and remind them.  They say “yes, I’m meaning to do that soon.”  They don’t.  We call again.  Nada. Zip. Effectively, we say “no” on behalf of our would-be supporters – never even extending them the courtesy of making their own decision. Before you know it, the year has ended and we’ve effectively avoided doing our chore.

Why do we do this, especially with organizations we love?  When we serve on a board (or as a committed donor) aren’t we making a statement about our values?  And if we truly value something, wouldn’t we want to share our values with others and enable others with similar values to also participate in the wonderful mission of which we’re a part?

This brings me to the word “philanthropy”, which literally means “love of humankind” (from Greek).  When I asked the same board who painted the word “fundraising” with a negative brush to paint the word “philanthropy” for me, here are the (all) positives:

image of coffee mug with text "I Love Philanthropy" with heart


Fundraising is not about money; as a servant to philanthropy it’s really about love. And we mustn’t say “no” to love on behalf of others.  People are perfectly capable of doing this on their own, and they should be able to make their own choices. What makes us feel okay about denying others the opportunity to feel fulfilled?  As one of my fundraising mentors and founder of The Fundraising School, Hank Rosso, said: “Fundraising is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.”

Once board members understand their role as noble “philanthropy facilitators” (as teachers rather than ignoble fundraisers) they can shift their brains from a place of “detestable” to a place of “honorable.” Most of us genuinely want to help others.  We want to care about something other than ourselves.  We welcome someone reaching out to touch us… to motivate us… to inspire us to the actions for which we yearn.

I love the definition of philanthropy coined by Bob Payton, professor emeritus at The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, as “voluntary action for the public good.” Every word has impact. Philanthropy is voluntary; not coerced. It’s action; time or money given, and it’s directed towards the public good. In other words, it’s not about money. It’s about helping.

Philanthropy is based in values. Development uncovers folks who share the values your organization enacts. Fundraising matches the donor who shares those values with the organization that enacts them. Presto! We’ve suddenly shown others the path to be the change they want to be in the world. That’s why “fundraisers” are such superstars. Fundraisers are the catalysts that make change happen.

Do you see the difference between fundraising and philanthropy? How would you help your board members to get over the fundraising taboo?


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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. Claire, I like the idea of shared values. People want to have an impact. They want to know the impact they are making does not cross their values. Funders give fore many different reasons. One thing they might do once is cross their values. They will not do it twice. As a fundraiser, my job is to provide opportunities to funders to make an impact that feels good, makes a difference and harmonizes with key values.

  2. Thanks David. I've found it's really amazing what a difference it makes if we come from a values-based perspective.


  1. […] is transactional. It’s about money. When viewed as being about money fundraising, at best, is seen as an onerous chore; a necessary evil. We’ll put it off for as long as possible – sometimes forever. When fundraising is servant to […]

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