Working in a small nonprofit can be tough.
You wear a lot of hats and it’s easy to feel like the Lone Ranger.
There are so many things to do, that some of them are outside your comfort zone.
Like, so far outside your comfort zone you feel like you’re facing the creature from the Black Lagoon.
Since today is Halloween, let’s look at the top 10 scary things about fundraising in a small nonprofit, especially when you’re the one in charge.
1. Speak in public. It can be really nerve wracking to stand up in front of a group of people and explain what your nonprofit does. You have to remember everything you want to say and say it in the right order. You have to stay within the time they’ve given you to speak and try to say something inspiring so that your audience wants to either get involved in your nonprofit or make a donation. For those of us who speak a lot, there’s a pressure to perform. For those who aren’t as experienced, speaking in public can be as terrifying as facing the velociraptors from Jurassic Park.
2. Shoot video/be on TV. The thought of having a video camera focused on them makes many people want to run and hide. You’re afraid you’ll mess up and look stupid. You’re afraid your hair is sticking up funny or that you have spinach on your teeth. You’re afraid you’ll mess up and embarrass yourself. Video is a powerful tool for fundraising and being on TV is a great way to spread the word about your nonprofit. For those of us who have done it lots of times, we can still get butterflies in our tummy. For those who haven’t done it much, it’s as unnerving as meeting a werewolf on a dark night with a full moon.
3. Fire a volunteer. Lots of nonprofit leaders are pleasers. They like making others happy. That’s tough when you manage people, because sometimes you have to make tough decisions like letting someone go. And if that someone is a volunteer, that can be extremely difficult. Just the thought of asking a volunteer to leave and not return can have your heart pounding in your chest, your palms sweating, and your adrenaline flowing. After all, they’re donating their time so they should be respected, right? Not every volunteer is right for the job they’re in. Sometimes you can move them to another role where they can be more successful. But sometimes, especially if they’re stirring up trouble or causing drama, you have to ask them to leave. It’s a horrifying experience, like hearing a strange noise in your house when you’re sure you’re alone.
4. Tell someone No. Many folks who work in nonprofit are kind-hearted. They’re there because they want to help others and be able to say “yes” to providing as much help as possible. Telling someone “no” just goes against the grain. They don’t want to disappoint anyone, and often that means saying “no” to themselves when they say “yes” to the great new idea that someone else has. Responding with “no” is so scary that some of us take on way too much, then we find ourselves overworked and stressed out, which really doesn’t leave us in a good space to provide the help we’re here to provide. It’s frightening what one little word can do.
5. Face the checkbook. Managing the finances is often the hardest part of a nonprofit director’s job and facing the checkbook can be absolutely chilling. If you’re not a ‘numbers person,’ doing anything mathematical is stressful, and looking to see how much money you have in the bank can leave you breathless. It’s worse when you’re not sure there’s enough to pay for everything that needs to be paid. Kind of like going for a walk in the woods at night and hearing a chain saw fire up.
6. Talk with a donor about their death. Talking in person with a donor can be scary enough, but talking about a planned gift means talking about the donor’s ultimate demise, and that’s enough to make the bravest fundraiser tremble with fear. It’s the ultimate donation when a donor leaves your nonprofit in their will, and until you develop the skill, it’s an uncomfortable conversation at best, terrifying at worst, and will leave you gasping for air just like spending the night in a haunted house.
7. Deal with difficult Board members. Most people serving on a nonprofit Board don’t really understand their job. And in the absence of this knowledge, they can micro manage and meddle in things they should stay out of. For some, they start to feel a little power and want to throw that power around. Dealing with difficult Board members is scary for a Director – they’re your boss and it puts you in a difficult situation to have to tell your Boss to settle down or not try to tell the front-line folks what to do, especially when you’d rather run in fear. But it has to be done for the good of the nonprofit, no matter how scary it is.
8. Call a Foundation and ask if they’d like to fund your program. So many people hate the phone. Others hate asking for anything. Couple those together and calling to ask a foundation if your program is a good fit with their interests can be worse than facing a vampire alone in a dark alley. Anything you haven’t done much of will make you nervous. Being afraid of hearing “no” makes it worse. Practice makes it easier and builds your confidence, just like carrying a wooden stake and garlic will.
9. Take a call from a pissed-off donor. It happens. A simple mistake results in a donor’s name being misspelled or left off of a donor list. Or worse. It’s like you unknowingly created Frankenstein’s monster and now they’re on the phone, angry over whatever just happened. To fully fund your budget, you need a big, loyal donor base, and that means having the difficult conversations with mad donors. Face your fear on this one like walking through a cemetery during a full moon.
10. Ask for money face-to-face. It’s the ultimate scary fundraising experience. It’s you and the donor, eyeball to eyeball, and it’s time to voice the words to ask for a large donation. Your heart thunders in your chest, you’re sweating, and your mouth is so dry you can hardly get the words out. Asking in person for a major gift is one of the most productive uses of your time. And for those who are inexperienced, it’s one of the most terrifying. Like your worst nightmare come true.
Scary stuff, right?
You may feel some to a lesser degree than others. Or maybe there’s something else that kicks your heart-rate up.
Regardless, know that everyone gets tense, nervous, or just scared from time to time. It’s not just you.
The more you can handle your fear, the weaker it will get.
And as a fundraiser, being able to manage the butterflies in your tummy is a good thing.
Share your scary experiences as a fundraiser in the comments below.