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Fear, Shame, Dread and Other Fundraising Emotions

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One of the most common things you hear people say when you tell them what you do for a living is “Oh, I hate fundraising! I could NEVER do that for living!”


There are all kinds of fun responses we can think of. But what this tells us over and over again is that fundraising is widely perceived as something dirty, ethically challenged or at least uncomfortable. People think that talking to someone about their own money is akin to talking to them about sex, politics or religion.

It’s not.

The saddest thing is that many fundraisers labor with some notions like these. They fear being perceived as a salesman, as too pushy, greedy or sneaky.

Another aspect here is that very few praise fundraisers. Other professions are honored or admired. Ours is distrusted and misunderstood. You won’t see awards for accomplished development officers; you won’t see us on the cover of a magazine or a mom dreaming of her daughter growing up to be a development officer!

When people tell me they could never do fundraising, I look them in the eye and tell them I love my profession and that I am working to make the world a better place.

Successful development officers know that they are doing their prospects a huge service by bringing them philanthropic opportunities. You’re not being pushy or sneaky – you’re bringing them a wonderful gift! This attitude is essential to success and it’s what got me started early in my career.

Back in the mid 1980’s I was a door to door canvasser for the peace movement. I was knocking on doors with a clipboard in my hand, signing up members, talking to them about Underground Nuclear Weapons Testing. I had beads, a lot more hair and was a little full of myself. We had a nightly quota of $80 and a membership was $25.

When I was about 2 months into my job I was walking in the dark and dangerous winding roads of the Hollywood Hills. I was trained to “read” a house – look for signs that they would support our cause, be nice liberal folks. I came up to a huge mansion that had all the bells and whistles: a whale weathervane, Volvo with groovy bumper stickers, etc. You get it. I knocked on the door and in front of me appeared a middle-aged woman with a pleasant but reserved smile. She invited me in and I gave her my rap (I had it down to 30 seconds). She looked at one of my brochures, then went for her checkbook! Somehow, I saw she was writing a $100 check (at the time, that was a huge gift to me, and I (stupidly) must have made a happy face).

She stopped in the middle of it all and said “Is this a big deal to you?

”Do you think this is a big deal to me?”

I stumbled and I don’t recall what I said. But she asked me if I had a college education. I told her I did.

She said “You’re out here, bringing this cause to me, in the dark, on a dangerous road and all I have to do is write a check.”

Then she said – and I remember this like it was yesterday – “If you think this is a big deal to me, and you’re that impressed, then you will fail.”

Walking away from there with the check, I realized she was right. I was making it super easy for her to do something. I was doing her a huge service. From then on I knew I had no call to be sheepish, nervous or scared. I held my head high. Knowing that I was doing something righteous, doing good work makes it so I don’t feel ashamed. I can cold call and look a billionaire in the eye.

Doing our prospect research strengthens this attitude. If we do our prospect research and work with our PR staff closely, we generally approach people (even cold) that have strong affinity for what we are raising money for.

Many times I have pursued someone who was very well protected, layered in assistants and aides. Actually talking to them was pretty hard. But I had done my research and I knew that person was passionate about the cause. So once I actually was able to talk with that wealthy philanthropist, they were thrilled. I had brought them this opportunity, a new way to do something about the cause they cared about. They thanked me for my persistence.

When you’re working for a great cause, with a good organization that’s your fuel and your shield, use it! This knowledge is the source of courage to do our difficult jobs.

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  • Armando Enrique Zumaya

    Happy to answer questions, also I have a website at
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