Venkat Eshwara, who has steered Ashoka University’s remarkable fundraising journey, writes why fundraisers must ditch diffidence and invest effort in developing the kind of confidence required to persuade donors to support their cause.
A few weeks ago, I had a call with the head of fundraising of an emerging non-profit organisation aiming to build significant scale. The person was bouncing ideas and seeking advice on sizing, strategizing and addressing the Indian philanthropic market. After the interaction, something struck me as odd and fundamentally amiss. It was the absence of confidence and an overwhelming presence of an apologetic demeanour towards raising funds.
Why confidence is key
Fundraisers are the first port-of-call and the organisation’s public face for donors. If you, as the fundraising person, are tentative and lacking in confidence, the donor could develop doubts on two counts: One, do you lack conviction or belief in your organisation? Two, is your non-profit capable of absorbing the contribution and using it effectively? And the donor will likely hit pause, reconsider, or worse still, terminate the contribution.
Yes, non-profits need the money. And yes, there is almost nothing ‘in return’ for the giver barring the joy of changing lives. And sometimes not even that when the donor is giving to fund structural overhead investments and no money directly flows to a cause or a community. Which is why it is critical that you exude confidence and conviction when you speak about your organisation and the reason you need funds.
Fundraising – non-profit or otherwise – is a sales process. It is elevated salesmanship because one is selling, even if the ‘product’ is intangible. And a diffident salesperson will regress the organisation. Fundraising professionals need to possess and display confidence, not in a muscular kind of way, but in a manner that exudes quiet self-belief and communicates reassurance to donors and stakeholders.
Gandhi unapologetically used modern sales methods like hawking autographed photographs of Nehru, Patel and Azad for a price. And Mother Teresa never suffered any blushes asking for funds in the name of the Lord.
Always remember that a wonderful idea and keen strategy can be waylaid by the absence of high-quality fundraising. Fundraising pulses the arterial blood flow of your organisation, its commitment and aspiration. The success of your organisation depends on how well – and how confidently – you do your job.
What makes a confident fundraiser?
Fundraising with confidence requires, in addition to a deep conviction in the work your organisation does, a significant amount of discipline and conscious, consistent effort.
In conclusion, train well and learn to sport a confidence cloak. Gawky everyday Clark Kent or Lois Lane can morph into fundraising Superman or Superwoman. The ask could be big or small but fundraising principles remain the same. It takes similar effort and diligence whether raising Rs. 500,000 for a scholarship or Rs 5 crore for building institutional infrastructure.
Lastly, never be apologetic. Non-profit work is uplifting and in the service of society and country. Let that selflessness inspire the giver into taking positive action. As Henry Rosso said, ‘Fundraisers should use pride, not apology when asking for a gift for a charity that is doing good work.’
Venkat Eshwara is one of the speakers and Mentors at the ILSS Fundraising Program, designed specifically to equip social sector leaders with the skills and knowledge needed to raise funds with confidence. Applications for the Program are now open.
Become a change leader. Apply now for the ILSS Leadership Program.
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