Fear of Fundraising

Fear of Fundraising


by David Allen, Development for Conservation


In fundraising, the majority of our work involves building relationships with donors – with people.

This should be easy. It should be fun. It should be painless.


So what’s holding us back? What’s getting in the way?

The simple answer turns out to be: just about anything.


When I ask this of most groups, and especially groups of Board members, I get variations on four themes:

Opportunity – I don’t know any rich donors. I don’t run in “those” circles. So-and-so won’t answer the phone. They live in Florida half the year and when they’re here, they’re too busy.

Distraction – I’m too busy. They’re too busy. There’s a deadline looming. The newsletter needs to go out. Lots of stuff isn’t getting done because of all the stuff that is getting done.

Knowledge & Experience – I don’t know enough about the projects or programs. I don’t know enough about the prospects or donors. I just don’t have enough information.

Discomfort – I’ll do anything as long as I don’t have to ask for money.


To which I would reply: Take responsibility for creating opportunities, carve out the time and make it happen, practice makes better, and just get over it (everyone feels discomfort to some degree or another).

What I suspect, though, is that all of these excuses are related to a basic underlying FEAR. We tend to equate all fundraising with asking, and we know deep down, that the reason we are building these relationships is so we can ask for money. That’s the job.

And almost anything else will be more comfortable.

So this post is dedicated to every one of us who feels afraid to some degree or another – which is every one of us.

Maybe if we name the fear…

Maybe if we confront the fear…

Maybe if we realize that we are not alone in feeling that way…

Maybe we can help each other.


So what are we afraid of? And what can we do to overcome it?


Here’s my Fear list:


We’re afraid of losing (rejection): We’re afraid of asking and being turned down flat.

Never mind that this fear is based on several false assumptions and should be relatively rare – beginning with the assumption that we are going in cold. We haven’t had three or four (or more!) meetings with the prospect to date. We don’t know whether or not they’re even interested in the project. And we’re asking for a gift level that we can’t imagine them agreeing to.

None of these assumptions need be true. The ask might be based on several years of interaction and listening to the other person. We might know that they have loved pine forests since they first smelled them as kids. We might know that the project is right next door to a project they supported at a similar level ten years ago.

We could of course know all of those things and they might still say “No”, but it doesn’t happen as often as we imagine.

Fears are the Stories we tell ourselves.


We’re afraid of strong emotion: We’re afraid that the other person will get angry, or affronted, or insulted. And we’re also feeling strong emotions ourselves – we’re vulnerable.

Does it happen? Sure it does – it’s happened to me. But people react strongly when they are surprised, and it’s relatively easy to avoid the surprise factor. If they know you are coming, and they accept the appointment/visit/call, they are not likely to be surprised that you asked for something. And if they know the project and the overall fundraising context, they are unlikely to be surprised by the amount.

Fears are the Stories we tell ourselves.


We’re afraid of not being liked (or respected, or worthy): This fear is deep-seated. It comes from American mythology that if you are smart enough, or worthy enough, or you just work hard enough, you won’t need help – you won’t need to ask. Consequently, merely by asking, you are admitting that you can’t do it on your own – you’re not smart enough, or worthy enough. And you are clearly not working hard enough. Can’t you just live within your means?

Never mind that this is also misguided. Non-profit work is not about being unable to do for ourselves. And fundraising is not about begging. It’s about helping communities come together to solve community problems. It’s about expressing community values. It’s about connecting people who want to make a difference with opportunities for them to do just that – make a difference.

Fears are the Stories we tell ourselves.


We’re afraid of being wrong, looking silly, and being judged for it. This fear is related to buyer’s remorse. We notice all the other people who bought the same car we did because we need affirmation that our decision was a sound one. And we secretly fear that others will look at the same facts and make a different decision – that we missed something, and that our decision was wrong.

We’re afraid that by advocating for a specific conservation organization or effort, that we will be judged harshly by people we respect for picking the wrong group.

That we’re really a fraud, and we’re about to be “found out.”

Fears are the Stories we tell ourselves.


We’re afraid of not knowing something we should, not having the right tools or information. We tell ourselves that we need to be an expert – to be able to answer any question.

Never mind that we already have the passion and the stories we need for fundraising. That donor decisions are rarely based on data. They’re based instead on feelings, and trust, and loyalty. And never mind that someone asking you a question you can’t answer gives you a natural reason to meet with them again.

Not knowing all the answers is actually a plus.

Fears are the Stories we tell ourselves.


We’re afraid of intimacy – yeah, intimacy – being vulnerable. Intimacy brings depth to the relationship. And depth brings vulnerability. It also brings passion and joy.

Finding the right project and connecting the right donor to it at the right time has the potential to be a joyful experience for both of you.

Fears are the Stories we tell ourselves.


So how do we get past our fears? I would offer three thoughts:


First, these fears are real. They do not represent some inherent weakness. They need to be validated. We are afraid, and our fear is a base-level emotion. Naming it and confronting it can help us control it.

Second, we are not alone. Different people experience these fears differently. For some it feels paralyzing. For others, it’s a rush of adrenaline. I suggest talking openly about it. And we don’t need to work alone either. We can go on donor visits with another Board member or staff person. Use each other. Support each other.

Third, find a bigger “Yes”. My wife and I used to tell our kids that one way to help say no to self-destructive activities (like drugs) was to find a bigger “Yes”. The bigger Yes for building relationships with donors is the mission and the projects.


If we truly buy-in to the goals in the Strategic Plan, if we’re emotionally connected to the land and to the water – to the outcomes of what we’re doing – then we must get through our fears of fundraising.

The donors are out there, waiting to be put to work – ready to be connected to projects and outcomes that they believe in also.

Time to get on the phone.


Cheers, and have a great week.



Photo by Walt Kaesler.

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1 Comment
  • Sarah
    Posted at 11:36h, 01 May

    This is one of the most valuable posts you have ever written. How did you know the exact fearful thoughts I have every single day? I’m kidding of course. It just goes to show how those of us who are doing this work are really in the same boat at the end of the day. Thank you for your leadership, weekly guidance, the push to overcome my fears so we can fulfill our mission.