Good nonprofit fundraising is based on relationships. We all know that.
And what does it take to build relationships?
It takes energy, effort, and often, face time. You know – that ‘meeting-in-the-flesh,’ ‘I-see-you,’ ‘I-can-read-your-body-language’ kind of time.
It looks easy for a lot of people.
But not so much for us introverts.
Raise your hand if you’re an introvert
An introvert is someone who gets their energy from quiet time. They need time to themselves, away from people, to recharge their batteries.
They tend to be quiet, reserved, and introspective. They may also be shy or unsure of themselves in crowds. Sometimes they find it easier to express themselves in writing rather than in the spoken word.
I am an introvert. I know you may find that hard to believe, but it’s true.
In doing some research for this article, I actually learned a good bit about myself. I’m not shy like I thought, I’m reserved and like to observe before I interact. I’m not socially awkward, I just don’t like small talk and find it hard to do. (You have no idea how relieved I am to learn these things!)
For some dumb reason, I had it in my head that being shy and reserved was a bad thing. I can remember as a child being told “Don’t be bashful – step up and talk to people,” yet I didn’t want to.
As a teenager, I couldn’t walk into the high school library, because everyone would turn and look at me. I just couldn’t handle it. Strange, I know, but true.
When I became a Development Director, the introvert was both a curse and a blessing.
The blessing: Being an introvert meant I was fine with working alone. I liked the quiet time to think and plan. I’m a good writer, so I could do a LOT armed with just my computer. I became an excellent grant writer and I raised hundreds of thousands of dollars through the mail because I knew how to write an appeal that would pull heart strings.
The curse: My introverted self liked to stay in the safety of my office. I got really, really good at doing things from behind my computer and avoided everything else (even though I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing). I did some events, and even though they were successful, it was exhausting because it was so far outside my comfort zone. It was a long time before I finally decided I would never raise big bucks unless I got face-to-face with major donors. And frankly, that terrified me.
If any of this sounds familiar, don’t worry – you’re not alone. I’ve been quite surprised over the years at the number of introverts I’ve met who work in fundraising. I wonder if it’s because we tend to be sensitive people and want to help others?
Being an introvert can be compounded by shyness, perfectionism, insecurity, low self esteem, and the inability to say “no,” also known as pleasing. I find that most of these behaviors are habitual and most of the time we’re not even aware that we’re doing them. Unfortunately, none of this will work to your advantage as you try to fully fund your nonprofit so you can keep doing the good work you do. So if you’re serious about raising money and changing lives, you might want to start working on some of these so they won’t slow you down. Just saying.
At any rate, I want you to know that I became very successful as a Fundraising Introvert, and I believe you can too.
Here’s some of what I did:
1. Know yourself. The more you know your own likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, the better you can work with them. When you need to stretch and spend time with people, find a way to prepare so you can be as comfortable as possible. And be sure to plan some down time afterward so you can recharge. I’m a team player, so for me, it was helpful to remember that donors were just people. Once I started meeting some of them and found out how nice they were and how much they cared about my nonprofit’s mission, I felt like it was “we” instead of “me vs them”. That helped a lot.
2. Play to your strengths. Know what you’re good at and work there as much as possible. Then get help with the rest. Chances are good you’ll need to get face time with at least some of your best donors at some point, so start getting used to the idea. I got really good at playing to my strengths as a writer before I ventured outside my comfort zone. That meant I was raising a good bit of money through grants and direct mail, and there wasn’t a lot of pressure on me to bring in the major gifts right away. However, don’t try to hire this out. If you’re a Founder or an Executive Director, you’re not off the hook if you hire someone to do fundraising for you. You still have to interact with donors and be the face of the organization in the community. People will expect it.
3. Take baby steps. Choose “safe” ways to get face to face with donors. For some introverts, inviting 3 or 4 donors for a tour of your facility is a good way to ease into a relationship. It’s low-key because all you’re doing is showing them around. There’s no pressure on you to ask them for anything. You might find that having a Board member join you for lunch with a donor they already know can take a lot of pressure off you to keep the conversation going. There are probably dozens of other ideas – get creative here and do something that works for you. No one should expect you to have a brilliant first meeting with a major donor if you’ve never done it before.
4. Take it one step at a time. Don’t try to leap ahead and go from no interaction with donors to suddenly being their best friend and getting a billion-dollar gift. Remember that relationships take time to develop, and if some of your donors are introverts too, they won’t be in a hurry to get to know you. Once you have an interaction with a donor, whether it’s a call, an email, a meeting, or something else, decide on the very next step. Don’t worry about steps 2 through 10, just focus on step 1. That will take some of the overwhelm out of it.
5. Celebrate the wins. Alone. And in your own home. Just kidding. But do celebrate accomplishments and things that go right. Celebration could look like a special meal or a chocolate milkshake – you know what feels like a treat to you.
Introverts CAN be successful at raising money. I’m living proof.
Stay focused on the mission of your nonprofit and why it matters to you, and that will help keep you motivated. Then make sure you get enough time just for you to re-energize yourself.
Oh, and if you want a laugh, I’ve created a Pinterest Board just for introverts. Check it out.