Understanding the emotional journey of fundraising
How to prepare for the highs and lows
A fundraising campaign can be an emotional rollercoaster, with the initial highs of launching your challenge and getting a flurry of donations often followed by lows as the money coming in slows. What can a fundraiser do to prepare for the ups and downs? Dr Beth Breeze, director of the University of Kent’s Centre for Philanthropy and author of The New Fundraisers , offers her tips for healthy campaigning.
Do fundraisers underestimate what an emotional journey a fundraising campaign can be?
Yes. Fundraising campaigns are almost always emotional because the lows are pretty tough – most asks do not result in a donation so you have to be very resilient and able to keep going when the target feels a long way off. But when you help to build a bridge between your cause and a donor then there’s no better feeling.
One of the successful professional fundraisers that I interviewed summed it up: 'I love fundraising. The passion I feel about what I do is because I'm giving someone with a lot of money the opportunity to do the best thing they've done all year, or all decade – or ever!'
Volunteer fundraisers often take on two challenges, a physical one and the financial one of reaching a certain target. Is it easy to underestimate the financial side?
I can well imagine that many people might feel enthusiastic about tackling a huge physical challenge and yet quake at the thought of saying five words: 'Please would you support me?'
One thing that paid fundraisers working within charities do, especially before a big meeting with a potential major donor, is to practice ‘making the ask’ before they do it for real. So find a friend who will let you practice on them, or just look in the mirror and say those five words out loud. It is hard to say no to a direct charitable request – especially if it’s someone you know and like who has asked you.
Failure to hit your target – or periods when it feels like little money is being raised – can be pretty dispiriting. How can fundraisers cope with these low points?
It’s important to avoid taking ‘no’ personally. First you should check that they mean ‘no, I’ll never donate’ rather than ‘no, not now’ by asking if there’s a better time to discuss this again. And if it is an outright ‘no’ then simply thank them for considering the request and keep looking for people who care more about the cause and have some spare cash. Being rejected or ignored is very common for fundraisers but if you don’t keep smiling and asking then you’ll never hit the jackpot!
How can fundraisers cope if they feel despondent?
It’s crucial that fundraisers don’t see themselves as pushy salespeople or like they are pestering people! Fundraisers create opportunities for other people to do good things, and that is something to be proud of. Both the asker and the giver have a shared concern about the cause. If you are asking for donations then – in the words of fundraising guru Ken Burnett – you have got your arm around their shoulder rather than twisting their arm up their back.
Where should they go for help?
Fundraising is a team effort – even the most brilliant fundraisers can only succeed within charities that are positive about fundraising. Most charities will be as supportive as they can of volunteer fundraisers who need good quality information and materials to share the message with their networks, and also need moral support to keep their spirits up.
My son and I once 'swam the Channel' for a great charity called Aspire, who support people with spinal injuries , by doing over 1,300 laps of our local swimming pool. We were delighted to receive a call halfway through the challenge from someone at Aspire to thank us and wish us well. It made all the difference!
Even if successful, the end of a fundraising campaign can result in a bit of a comedown. Do you have any tips on how to cope with this?
There are always good causes that need funds to pay for their important work, so there’s no real ‘end’ to raising money. If you find out you’re good at it and that you enjoy it, then don’t stop! If you find you’re really good at raising money then a career change may be in order.
My research shows that most professional fundraisers 'fell into' the job rather than planned to be in that line of work. It’s fine to talk about your success as a volunteer fundraiser in your job application, and you may be surprised at how warmly your application is received, as there is currently a shortage of experienced and enthusiastic fundraisers on the job market.
As well as writing The New Fundraisers: who organises charitable giving in contemporary society? Beth helped produce The Perfect Partnership report , which explores how staff and volunteers can best work together to attract and maintain high level support.
Beth leads the teaching of a Master’s degree in Philanthropic Studies , taught part-time by distance learning to fit around personal and professional commitments. Scholarships are available for high caliber students working in small charities.