Fear – an Exercise to Help You Talk About It

Fear – an Exercise to Help You Talk About It


9 January 2024


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


Every year, I dig back through my files and throw out most of my paper from seven years ago. This year, it was 2016’s turn for the shredder.

And every year, I come across some piece I had forgotten about but that was otherwise worth saving. This year’s gem was a 1996 article by Kim Klein called Getting Major Gifts. In it, she describes an exercise that is worth playing with at the Board level.

Here’s the gist if it:

The group as a whole is asked to imagine asking someone to make a substantial gift. Let’s use $1,000, which will work as “substantial” for most groups. Each person is asked to say out loud what they think will happen to them if they do that. A facilitator writes down all the feared outcomes.

Here’s a sample list:

  • The person will say no.
  • The person will yell at me.
  • The person will hit me.
  • I will have a heart attack.
  • It will come across as an insult. They don’t have the money. We’re not in an affluent area.
  • Asking would be an unforgivable imposition. I will lose a friend.
  • The person will think that the only reason I have been nice to them was to get money out of them.
  • The person will say Yes – and then expect the same from me for their cause or charity.
  • Other organizations deserve the money more than we do.
  • The person will ask me questions that I can’t answer.


(Recognize any of these?)

Then, as a group, the various fears are grouped into categories. Most will tend to fall into just three:

Things that are extremely unlike to ever happen. (They will hit me or I will have a heart attack.)

Things that might happen but that I could easily handle. (They will ask me for money or they’ll ask questions I can’t answer.)

Things that will definitely happen occasionally. (The person will say no.)


After grouping the answers, focus a conversation on moving past each one. What could we do if this or that happens? How can we get better at NOT taking the outcomes personally? Directly linking the asking to getting more conservation work done? Understanding asking as presenting important opportunities to make an important difference instead of begging for money? How can we get past our fear?

How can we support each other?


Dispelling fear won’t happen overnight. And it won’t happen because you have one conversation at a Board level. What I see more often is that Board members fear even talking about it. That conversation needs to be ongoing.

Kim Klein likens it to hearing a noise in the house in the middle of the night. Do we pull the covers over our head and pretend we didn’t hear it? Or do we get up and turn all the house lights on?

Asking people for money comes with the job for most nonprofits. Asking in person makes larger gifts possible and is both the most difficult and the most important fundraising we can do. Some people find it comfortable and rewarding. Hooray! Others are more afraid.


For all of us, it’s time to get out of bed and turn the lights on.


Happy New Year! Happy January!


Cheers and Have a Good Week!



PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.


Photo by moonzig courtesy Pixabay




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  • Astrid
    Posted at 16:34h, 10 January

    Fear is holding me back from being the best fundraiser I can be. I look forward to the webinar on the 25th.

  • Heidi Habeger
    Posted at 11:36h, 09 January

    Same as Carol, we have a staff meeting every Thurs until 11:15. Maybe sometimes I’ll join late, or the meeting is moved or canceled. Either way, I think it’s good you’re doing this. Also, I think I might do this exercise, but with my colleagues, and about Thank You calls! We’ve had ongoing discussions about their fears — this sounds like another way to help face the issue (and turn on the lights!) 🙂

    • David Allen
      Posted at 11:46h, 09 January

      Thank you both (you and Carol) for your comments and encouragement. At this point, I’m not committing to anything beyond the first one. No day or time will meet the needs of everyone. I am playing with the Some Time Thursday title, because if it ever does become a regular thing, I will probably keep it on Thursdays and change the time of day each time. And if it becomes a regular thing, it will probably be quarterly with lots of notice. BUT – no promises.


  • Carol Abrahamzon
    Posted at 09:36h, 09 January

    I so love this plan, however, have a conflict every Thursday at noon. I’ll join for a bit when I can.

  • Rich
    Posted at 07:07h, 09 January

    Terrific suggestions. Thanks for sharing these.