Fundraising & the Power of Confidence

Preeminent 18th century British author Samuel Johnson once said, “Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings.”

This is true in politics… it’s true in sales… it’s true in military leadership… and it’s certainly true in fundraising.

Building up a reserve of confidence in your organization, in your donors, and in your own fundraising abilities is crucial to long-term success in non-profit development.

Why Confidence Matters

Confidence matters because, as fundraisers, we are constantly communicating with donors, volunteers, and supporters. We are in the public eye, and often serve as the key point of contact for major givers, foundations, and other supporters. For many people, we are the face of our organizations.

When people we are cultivating sense that we are less than confident in our conversation, in our manner, or in our ask, they often assume that the reason we are nervous or self-conscious is because we don’t fully believe in what we’re doing. They may think that we’re not telling the whole story, that we’re holding back some key piece of information. Likewise, the prospect or donor may feel like we’re not sure about our organization, and that the reason we seem nervous is because we’re making a big ask and not really sure that the non-profit we work for is worthy or capable of using such a gift.

In short, our outward lack of confidence causes our donors and prospects to pause.

What Confidence Really Means

There’s a saying that in times of great struggle, both heroes and cowards feel fear. The only difference is what they do with that fear.

As development professionals and volunteer fundraisers, we all occasionally feel fear. There’s not a fundraiser alive who has never sweated before a big meeting, or procrastinated before making a big call. There’s not a development pro around who hasn’t felt nervous about making a big ask. What separates those who are successful in this profession with those who burn out is what they do with that fear.

Being confident doesn’t mean never feeling fear. What confidence really means is having enough experience and practice to get through the fear, to turn that nervous energy into outward excitement and joy about the mission of our organization.

What Types of Confidence Do You Need?

As fundraisers, we each need to develop confidence in several different areas, to provide the reserves we need to get through the fear. As you develop confidence in each area, the amount and duration of self-consciousness that you feel before calls and asks will steadily diminish.

Confidence in Your Organization

First and foremost, develop confidence in your organization. Learn more about what your non-profit does. Spend time on the front line to see the results of your efforts. Know, deep down in your very being, that your organization’s mission matters. (For more on having confidence in your organization and mission, read Fundraising Isn’t Evil.)

Confidence in Your Donors / Prospects

Spend enough time out of the office to learn that generally, people are good at heart. The people that you meet with are interested in sharing their time and resources with good causes. They may not always end up supporting your cause, but 9 times out of 10 it’s not because they don’t care, it’s just because your mission doesn’t line up with their charitable interests as much as another organization does.

Confidence in Your Own Fundraising Abilities

This one is the toughest to master, but is also the most valuable to your career in development. Learn all you can, and understand that you know how to fundraise and know how to close big gifts and grants. When coupled with confidence in your organization and in your donors / prospects, this is a powerful confidence to possess. Remember… Anyone can be a superstar fundraiser!

How to Learn Confidence

I know what you’re thinking… ok, great Joe, thanks… but how the heck do I learn how to have confidence in my own abilities? The answer isn’t easy, but it is simple: education and practice.

First, you have to keep educating yourself. Read all you can about your organization, similar organizations, and trends in your non-profit area. Study fundraising. Read fundraising books. Go to seminars, join fundraising organizations. The best fundraisers constantly educate themselves.

Second, practice. Even though you may be nervous and unsure of yourself, get out there and cultivate donors. Make calls. Make ASKS. It’ll be scary at first, but keep plugging away. Use the tactics you learn on this site, in your reading, and at the seminars you attend. Trust the methods. Before you know it, if you keep overcoming the fear, you’ll develop a strong and sustained self-confidence that will become your single biggest asset in non-profit development.