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Ask a Fundraising Coach: a fundraiser who hates fundraising, and how to fire a volunteer

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Ask a Fundraising Coach is Network for Good’s weekly advice column, where our expert team of Personal Fundraising Coaches tackles your toughest challenges in the world of fundraising, nonprofit management, donor relations, and more.

Submit your questions to [email protected].

Sara W writes:

I’m a new development director at a tiny nonprofit. I love my organization but I feel like I’m failing a little in my position because I hate, hate, hate asking people for money. What are some strategies for getting over my anxiety? I also have to meet with donors so I have to ask in-person, not just by email.

And the board seems really reluctant to ask for money, too, so it’s not like I’m being given goals that I have to meet. I would love advice that’s not just “suck it up and do your job” (I already tell myself this).

Mindset is everything. And your mindset, dear reader, is setting you up to fail big time.

It’s time to take a 90-day hiatus from the use of the words “hate,” “failing,” and “tiny.” All negative self-talk is counterproductive in your new role. No need to suck it up – YOU GOT THIS.

I think a little self-confidence will go a long way, but since you’ve come to me for specific advice, here’s a plan for your first 6 months. I can’t promise that you will fall in love with fundraising, but I do guarantee that you will become awesome at it.

Celebrate your new hire status and ask for help.

Get to know your new employer through the eyes of its leadership – meet with at least one Board Member, Volunteer, Current, or Lapsed Donor each week for the next couple of months.

Arrive prepared with 3-5 questions about why they became involved with the organization and what motivates them to stay involved. It sounds like you’re feeling anxious about in-person meetings, so just remember that people love to talk about themselves. Try to let each person you meet with do at least 70% of the talking.

As a wise person once said, “Ask for money, you’ll receive advice.  Ask for advice, you’ll receive money.”

Start asking people for money – but make it easy.

Set yourself a reasonable goal of 2 donation asks every workweek.

Get ready to hear “No.” You’ll hear it more often and it makes “Yes” exponentially more exciting.  And there’s a silver lining – 98% of the time, it’s no reflection on you and you’ve got 2 opportunities to implement what you learned next week (yay, positive thinking!).

Try not to let it become a source of dread.

Figure out one healthy, low-cost solution to manage anxiety. For me, it’s a 30-minute brisk walk.  It’s as essential as breathing on high-stress days. And if it helps, even fundraising coaches get fundraising anxiety. What you’re feeling is NORMAL.

Get help from your peers.

Join the Association of Fundraising Professionals and block the time to participate as frequently as you can. Several Chapters have formal mentor programs and/or specific offerings for members new to the sector.

Hire a Coach or Consultant to spend a few hours training you and your Board on How to Make the Ask. Maintain a team approach instead of Me Vs Them outlook, and you’ll reach the finish line faster.

The bottom line is (and I think you already know this), the future of your organization depends on your ability to fundraise. Should you fail, the responsibility will fall to the board. So save your emotional energy and focus on what you can influence.

To succeed in this role, as I know you will, you must work through the anxiety. Start to see yourself as a talented matchmaker – connecting your organization with generous individuals interested in advancing your mission.

Also, Google “self-affirmations” and say a few in the mirror every morning.

Becca S writes:

I’m a one-person communications/fundraising team so I have to rely on volunteers for a lot. One of our volunteers has some graphic design experience and offered to help me design our annual appeal for free.

But, and I struggle to even say this, it’s just not good. I have tried giving feedback but either they’re not hearing me or aren’t able to make adjustments enough that I would feel comfortable sending it out.  

This particular volunteer is a huge asset to our organization and I would be in trouble if they get offended. 

I know beggars can’t be choosers, but how do I fire someone from a project when they’ve kindly worked on it for free, and I also can’t sour their relationship with our nonprofit? Do I just not tell them that I’m not using their work?   

“You get what you pay for.”
– Anonymous

In all seriousness, think twice before accepting this type of “gift.”  Over the course of your fundraising career, you’ll receive many generous offers. While it pains me to sound so salty, what you risk losing in time, relationships, and reputation is rarely worth what you save in dollars.

But hindsight is 20/20, etc. In your case, you should share the annual appeal with your board or a small group of donors for a second opinion and compile general impressions and feedback. If this group does not find it unfit for use, click send/print. If they do, well, now you have some help. Brainstorm with your board to figure out what you can realistically do with the existing budget and time available to enhance or upgrade the current product.

You may be a mighty team of one, but no one succeeds alone. Adding the voice and insights of other leaders in the organization can help to preserve this volunteer/donor’s enthusiasm for your organization. And if you can’t fire them, just… don’t fire them. Do your best to turn your ugly duckling appeal into a beautiful swan. And then don’t “hire” them for this project in the future.

And, not to pile on to what you’re probably already feeling, you should think hard about the decision to let a volunteer with questionable graphic design abilities have free reign over your annual fundraising appeal. If you don’t have one, draft a one-page style guide. Come up with a simple way to respond to future offers that give you a chance to test drive or sample their work. One way is to let aspiring graphic artists create some content for your social media to determine if they understand your aesthetic and can take feedback on their work. Then, and only then, agree to let them work on something as critical as the annual appeal!

Homework:  “You get what you pay for” – repeat this 10x daily.

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About This Blog

Amanda Khoury
Marketing Manager

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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