Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fundraising Phobia

Hands down, the one thing I really don’t like to do is ask people for money. Asking people to donate some of their hard earned cash ranks up there with painting ceilings and going to the dentist, in terms of my least preferred activities. Although I am dedicated to the cause and believe the charity work our group does is incredible, I hate asking for money. Yet, for the past seven years, asking people to financially support a cause I believe in is exactly what I’ve been doing.  It would be even be fair to say, I am the core of our charity group’s fundraising efforts. Year after year, I send out appeal letters and emails, create newsletters about our projects and special events, deposit checks, oversee online donations and write hundreds of thank you letters.  

September starts a new fundraising season and once again it’s time for me to ask people to open their hearts and wallets to support our cause; in the next 90 days, my intention is to solicit financial gifts from our global network and collectively raise 300,000 Thai Baht. The amount sounds more impressive than the equivalent in US dollars. To accomplish this goal, I must navigate around my fears and be willing to directly ask people to join in and help.

People give to charitable causes for all kinds of different reasons, but there is one thing that nearly all donors have in common… they were asked. Someone has to do the asking and put them selves “out there.” As a deep-rooted introvert, I enjoy peace and quiet and have mastered a high power of concentration by shutting out the external world. Putting myself out there as a fundraiser, being bold and gregarious at parties and social events, challenges the very fiber of my being. While it is not my natural preference, I have become a social networker; I have compelled myself to attend power lunches, make proposals at rotary club meetings and host various fundraising events. There is a saying, “fake it till you make it.” This catchphrase has become my mantra; for short periods of time I transform into a social butterfly, knowing I will retreat to my inner world and recharge afterwards. In the months ahead, I will meet with prospective donors and do my best to spark feelings of empathy and compassion for our cause.

During the fundraising season, everyone in my circle of influence is a potential donor, an altruistic partner. But I have rules: I don’t do the arm twist, the guilt trip or “If you give to mine, I’ll give to yours.” My approach is to tell people how their money will be used (90% of each donation goes directly to benefit children). It is critical to engage emotions. Sharing heartfelt success stories while showing pictures is often quite effective. Without arousing people on a feeling level, it’s hard for them to part with their bucks. I find the more sincere I am when asking for donations, the higher the chance is of people participating. However skillful I may have become at asking, it is never a pleasant process.

A stack of solicitation cards is piled on my desk, waiting for me to write a few personal words inside each one, before mailing them off. The front of the brightly colored card, illustrated with beautiful photos of children reads, Thank you for your Partnership, inside there is an appeal for financial support (we use words like tax deductible donation, gift, contribution—but it all really means we are asking people for money). These letters will be mailed to previous donors; my hope is that most will at least open the letter and skim the message. 

It is a statistical reality that many of our beautiful cards will end up in the recycling bin, along with the other charity solicitation letters that came that week. Research shows that you have to make five asks per gift. That’s a lot of no’s and a lot of marketing postage down the drain. But every no is part of a conversation and every conversation can mean a relationship. I always see a benefit in asking no matter what if a donation is made or not. One benefit of soliciting for donations over the years is that I’ve developed slightly thicker skin. Although I’m not as easily hurt by insult or rejection, I still do not feel comfortable being in that vulnerable position.  

Fundraising is clearly not one of my preferred tasks but the result of asking other people to support a cause, has connected me to an awe-inspiring network. Through my humanitarian work in SE Asia, and the fundraising that goes along with it, I have become a part of a special group of global volunteers, guardian angels that share a vision for a better future for the abandoned children we support. These folks come from all corners of the globe (US, Australia, Europe, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand)...some are affluent professionals,  and some are village teachers and school directors from the third world. It is such an honor to be a part of this amazing group of generous, kind souls committed to making the world a better place. 

Writing the last paragraph has motivated me to push beyond my fundraising phobia for the moment, and get back to the stack of solicitation letters calling for my attention.

As this post is about me, details about the charity I am involved with were intentionally vague.

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