In a sweet novel written some time ago, a young woman gets the shock of her life. Born to privilege, Christy, the novel’s namesake, becomes a teaching missionary in the poorest part of Appalachia.
Densely wooded trails replace paved roads; the only running water flows in streams; and she finds herself faced with outhouses and lots of bad teeth. Barefoot students attend a primitive school with no textbooks, let alone a library.
Once she overcomes an initial impulse to flee those piney woods, Christy decides to ask for help from a wealthy businessman. She could dress plainly for the interview and beg for funds to buy books — it’s what one might expect of a mountain schoolmarm.
Instead, she puts on her best suit and springs for an expensive new hat. As she enters the man’s impressive office, she realizes from his expression that she’s made the desired impression. She then focuses on shifting his interest “from me to the cause.” Mr. Rural Rockefeller is so taken by her approach that he writes a check then and there.
Which brings me to you: What’s your demeanor when you ask for money? Do you go boldly, maybe where no one has gone before, or do you get all apologetic, mincing your way around the ask? Maybe somewhere in between? And how are you dressed? Like you just got out of bed, or like you mean business and are worthy of attention?
Some people would rather face gall bladder surgery without anesthesia than ask for money, which they regard as a cringe-worthy act of begging. The problem is, some of those people are working in fundraising! If this is you, either change your tune or find another profession.
Whether you’re chasing annual gifts or securing your nonprofit’s future through planned gifts, fundraising is a noble calling. I repeat, fundraising is a noble calling!
Henri Nouwen saw it as “inviting people into a new way of relating to their resources.” In his book A Spirituality of Fundraising he wrote,
“I remember visiting a successful fund-raiser in Texas whose office was filled with beautiful things. I said, “How do you dare to ask for money in this office?” He replied, “My office is part of my way of approaching people. It is meant to communicate that I know how to work with money…how to make money grow. This inspires confidence in the people I meet that their investment will be well used.”
I think Christy would agree. When you ask for money, dress the part, act the part. And for Pete’s sake, don’t apologize for seeking funds for your worthy nonprofit. Keep this quote from Nouwen in mind:
“I ask for money standing up, not bowing down, because I believe in what I am about. I believe that I have something important to offer. Without apology I invite you to be part of this vision.”
[Note from Viken Mikaelian: “Raising money has more to do with your attitude than that of the donor.”