Feb 8, 2021

Brian Krogh

Overcoming the Anxiety of Asking for Funding: Lessons Learned Working with Fundraisers

Anxiety plagues even the most seasoned speakers.  It is a nerve-racking thing to stand up and speak in a world where everyone is talking and no one seems to have time to listen.  

If the idea of presenting in a meeting or a conference makes you anxious, then the idea of asking for funding can leave you terrified.  And yet this is a reality many of us face.  We need money to fund research, projects, start-ups, and philanthropic endeavors.

Over my career, I’ve had the pleasure of coaching teams that fundraise for a living.  A good fundraiser must know how to ask for and receive money.  A seasoned fundraiser may appear confident in their ask, but here is the behind-the-scenes truth – many fundraisers start their job because they believe in their organization’s mission just like you believe in your work, but they are as terrified as you are about the prospect of asking for money.

I know the feeling myself. For years I worked in sales and as a leader in a non-profit organization.  I know the fear that comes with looking someone in the eye and asking them to invest.

The good news is I’ve seen many who ask for donations for a living learn to ask for money with confidence, and so can you.  Here are four things that will increase your confidence and ensure you receive the funding you need.

Align Your Work to The Larger Mission

There is an old story of President John F. Kennedy encountering a janitor mopping the floor of a NASA building during the quest to put an astronaut on the moon.  The President approached the janitor and said, “sir, tell me what you are doing.” The janitor replied, “well Mr. President, I am putting a man on the moon.”

Why you do what you do is more compelling than what you do.  In your presentation, align your work to a larger mission or purpose.  Your audience will lean in as you describe the why behind your work, and as you are reminded of your larger purpose you will find your anxiety decreasing.

Tell Stories Before Details

I trained the business development team at one of the largest hospital networks in Boston, MA.  This team was in the middle of raising hundreds of millions of dollars to build a new facility.  The campaign clearly detailed the specs of the new building, but buildings do not move donors to give.  Stories do. Donors give in response to the stories of people the who will be helped.

We worked to redesign pieces of the campaign around story and the goals of the campaign were met.

When you ask for money, do not merely give details of your research or start-up, tell the stories of the individuals who will benefit from the work.  Telling stories benefits you in at least two ways. First, the story engages your audience's heart as well as their head. Secondly, since a story is easier to remember than a list of details telling a story gives you as the presenter a chance to relax.

Let the Audience Ask About the Details

Over the course of a year, I worked to train the regional staff of a large, international fundraising consulting company.  As many of us do, in each of their presentations they tired to cram 20 minutes of detail into 10 minutes of talking.  This is a problem for the speaker and the listener.  No audience has ever been glad to hear a speaker attempt this feat, and as the speaker trying to remember all these details and say them rapidly while you watch the clock tick down only raises your nerves.

We worked to create presentations that aligned to the mission and told more stories.  The speakers kept all the omitted details nearby, both in handouts and appendices added to their slide decks.  During the Q and A, the audience asked questions about details that mattered to them and the presenters increased their status by having the relevant details at the ready.

Great presenters do not try and download everything they know into the minds of the audience, rather they tell stories and share the detail that a specific audience needs to know.  If you withhold detail from your initial presentation you increase audience engagement as they are compelled to ask questions.  In your answer you also increase your status as the expert as you provide the audience with the information they seek.  An added benefit to you as the speaker is that you remove the pressure to remember and say every detail.  When you respond to a question, you do so with the confidence that you are sharing the details most important to your audience.

Give a Specific Call to Action

After you answer questions, you must do what you’ve dreaded before the presentation began.  You must ask for money.  Even if you’re nervous, do not apologize for this. The audience is expecting you to ask.  

I’ve sat with many a sales person, as I’m sure you have, who has said something like, “I’m sorry but I’ve got to ask, do you want to buy?”  I bet your response is like mine, “I’m sorry, but no.”

If your mission is important, your research worth backing, or your company a valuable investment, then there’s no need to apologize in asking for money.  

Aligning your work to a larger mission, telling stories before details, and allowing the audience to ask about the detail that matters to them creates a conversation through which your anxiety decreases and your audience engages. When this happens asking for and receiving money becomes a much easier task.

I’ll help you improve in 15 minutes, for free.

I would love to meet you and provide you with some value whether or not we work together long term. Let’s put something on the calendar.