What are your Activation Energy Barriers to fundraising?

Take-away: Identify your fundraising weaknesses and turn them into strengths.

Buzz, buzz, buzz… BAM!

Snakelike, you strike, slamming the snooze button.

Buzz, buzz, buzz… BAM!  You hit snooze again. It’s Monday, your room’s frigid and it’s toasty under your quilt.

You, my friend, have a serious Activation Energy Barrier (AEB).

Fundraising and your morning struggle are both hard, but why? Chemists call it an Activation Energy Barrier, the burst of energy required to jump-start a process, whether it’s photosynthesis or igniting a fire. In fundraising, I call this your Yeah, buts, as inYeah, I’d like to get a lot of money for my nonprofit, but

We develop strategies to lower our morning barriers, such as laying clothes out the night before, and for overcoming barriers, such as coffeemakers programmed to awaken us with the seductive scent of java.

Your “Yeah, But” Barrier Score

Similarly, you can develop strategies to lower or overcome your barriers to fundraising. But first, you must know what those barriers are. Try this little exercise.

Close your eyes. Call to mind someone who could donate $1,000. Imagine you’re about to ask them for a gift.  How do you feel? What are you afraid of? What’s stopping you? Here’s a list of common “Yeah, buts…” Check all that apply:

  1. ___ They’ll feel like I’m using our friendship to get money.
  2. ___ They won’t like me, they’ll reject me
  3. ___ I/they will be embarrassed
  4. ___ I don’t want the donor to feel uncomfortable/awkward
  5. ___ I don’t know how much to request/if they can afford it
  6. ___ They’ll say no or I’ll fail
  7. ___ I don’t know what to say/don’t have enough information/need a plan
  8. ___ I don’t know how to ask
  9. ___ They won’t see how important the cause is
  10. ___ Other(s): ____________________________________________________________________________

The more Yeah, buts… you have, the higher your score. If you checked only one or two, you can probably overcome them by using my five-step method (see below). If you checked all nine and listed one or more besides, you’re a 10, and may be unable to ask at all.

If you’re fearless, if you checked none of the above, what are you waiting for? Stop reading this blog and go ask for a gift!

Understanding your fundraising “Yeah, buts”

The good news is, I don’t want you to ask your friends to give if you think you’ll alienate them. I don’t want you to ask if you don’t know how much to request, if you don’t know what to say nor if you have reason to believe they’ll turn you down.

Who in their right mind would do that?

I want to show you how the flip side of your fear is often your asking strength. Playing to your strengths, you can overcome your fears. For example, if you checked # 1-4 above, you probably have great social skills, like my friend Lara, a therapist. Rather than asking directly, you might facilitate a conversation between your donor friend and your nonprofit’s CEO that results in a gift!  Everyone is different. Discover your Asking Personality to learn who, where, when, how you should ask, and how you can do so in ways at which you’ll excel.

You can lower your barriers by using my signature five-step method, which starts with thanking, not asking, proceeding through the steps so by the time you get to the last step, asking, you’re practically guaranteed a “Yes!”

You can learn more about my five-step method and discover your Asking Personality, in my book Nonprofit Hero, Five Easy Steps to Successful Board Fundraising, available on Amazon, or for free by request from your local library.

Ignite the spark that will overcome your fundraising activation energy barriers.

“When a log that has only just started to burn is placed next to one that is burning fiercely … the first log will be burning with much greater intensity.”                                                                                                                                                                               -Eckhart Tolle

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The T-Shirt Folding Fundraising Leadership Test

Take-away: Don’t overlook introverts when hiring your next development director.


“You have the fundraising gene.”

I get that a lot from friends and acquaintances. What they mean is, “You’re extraverted, outgoing and not afraid to ask.”

They’re wrong.

I am an extravert, but my confidence and skill come from decades of professional experience. When I started my career, I was so scared I had to smoke a cigarette before I could summon up the courage to get on the phone to ask someone to volunteer. Not to give. Just to volunteer.

I know. Cigarettes in the office. This was decades ago.

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Show Up Ready for “Yes!”

Take-away: Do a self-scan before asking, and get happy so you show up anticipating a “Yes!” not bracing yourself for “No.”

You’re about to ask for a major gift. Your donor’s been thanked for their past giving and kept involved. You know about their family, their interests and their philanthropy. You have a project they’ll love at a cost they can afford. It’s time to ask, right?

Wrong. You’ve left the most important thing of all off your checklist.

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The Top 15 Reasons Why People Give

Take-away: Ask those close to you before reaching out to big name funders with no connection.

You wouldn’t ask Bill Gates to cover your hospital bill…would you? If you needed financial help, you’d ask a family member or a close friend first. Charity begins at home. The same principle applies to fundraising. It’s the people around you, those already engaged or invested in your nonprofit who will give. Finding support for your organization should start from the center out, from those who know you best, to those who know you least.

Yet too often, we dream of a sugar daddy, a miraculous cure-all for our organization’s financial woes. “One big check from Bill Gates or Warren Buffet could solve all of our problems,” we muse. Volunteer board members see a name in the Wall Street Journal or on TV and think these celebrities are the answer to all of their nonprofit’s challenges.

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Are You a Fundraising Criminal?

Take-away: Be sure that you are registered to fundraise before you start!

In the last 24 hours, several folks have approached me who thought they could ask for money in Pennsylvania, but couldn’t. Why? They’re not registered with the PA Bureau of Charitable Organizations. How do I know? Because it’s public. Anyone, including donors and foundations, can look them up.

Go ahead. See if you’re registered.

(Note: there’s 1 button to search Charities, another for Solicitors/Fundraising Counsel)

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Boost Board Fundraising with LinkedIn

Take-away: Board Members who LinkIn with staff and each other can raise $ without even asking.

“Who do you know?”

Most of us don’t know who we know. Not really. How would you know that your neighbor’s brother works for the Ford Foundation? Or that your tennis partner’s wife handles sponsorship for Wawa? We can’t introduce our nonprofits to connections we don’t know we have.

Actually, you can.

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Give your Donor a Target, not Indigestion

Take-away: Asking for specific gift amounts reduces anxiety, is more fun and gets bigger gifts.

Here’s a recipe for heartburn. You dine at a restaurant where the waiter can choose to slip you a bill for $10…or $10,000. You find an outfit you love … in a shop without price tags. Most of us want to know how much things cost and fear, “if you need to ask, you probably can’t afford it.”

Yet, with the best of intentions, you may put a donor in this anxiety-ridden no-man’s land. To avoid putting her in an awkward position or pressuring her, you say, “Just give what you can,” or, “Could you give a bit more than before?” or, worst of all, “I’m sure you’ll do the right thing.”

DONOR: Hearing this, she thinks, OMG, did I give? How much? Was it $200? $1,000? …

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Teaching your Board to Ask; Don’t Put your Toddler on a Harley

Take-away: For practice and confidence, ask donors for gifts before asking prospects.

toddler on harley_original

Asking a new board member to solicit non-donors is like teaching a kid to ride a bike by putting her on a Harley. Not a good idea. Yet that’s just about what we do in fundraising. We tell new board members, “You don’t have to ask our donors; they’re already giving! We need you to bring in fresh blood, new donors.”
Subtext: “Get strangers to give us money.”

You’re afraid it will be awkward, because your friends and associates don’t yet know/care about your nonprofit. Or that it will be uncomfortable, because they may feel you’re using them. Worse, even if they do give when you ask them this time, unless you get them involved in the interim, they probably won’t give next year. So you’ll be back where you started. Except you may feel tongue-tied with some friends, family and colleagues.

Are you squirming yet?

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