The Antidote to Funder-Jitters

Neela Jane Stansfield shares her tips for getting rid of the fundraising jitters.

Have you ever begun to call a prospective funder and felt that feeling: a slight if imperceptible raise in body temperature, a subtle quickening of heartrate, possibly a few beads of sweat pricking your brow as you wonder whether it’ll be a friendly or hostile reception on the other end of the line…?  

Ok, so perhaps it’s not quite that dramatic, but if you find calling up funders even a little unnerving, you are far from alone. Even the most seasoned fundraisers can feel anxious at the first call or meeting with a funder, especially if it’s a biggie, or a newbie they’ve never spoken to before. Some folks find it helpful to make calls in a private meeting room to avoid the added pressure of any colleagues being in earshot (a great idea if it makes it easier). Other times, funder calls may get demoted down the to-do list because whilst they’re important, they don’t necessarily always feel urgent, and other more-pressing and less-daunting tasks can end up coming first. 

The diagnosis? Yup, what we have here is a classic case of the funder-jitters. 

Indeed, the trouble with these pesky jitters is that they tend to put us off actually picking up the phone in the first place. And whilst it might seem a bit old-school, the phone – and better yet, gasp, in-person-contact-not-on-a-screen! – is one of our classic and best tools for building rapport. We know, both anecdotally and from fundraising research, that putting the time and effort into a more personal approach tends to result in more, bigger, and longer-term funding. So how can we stop the funder-jitters from getting in the way? 

Well, thankfully, there is a possible cure for this age-old ailment. The key is to remember that funder relationships work both ways.  Grantmakers and philanthropists have their own charitable goals and objectives, and they need their grantees to be able to achieve them. So as much as we fundraising charities need that critical income, funders also get something significant out of a partnership. This doesn’t just apply to trusts and foundations, but to major donors as well – even if they don’t have to give their money away, they still get something out of the equation whether it’s fulfilling their philanthropic aims or simply a sense of being part of something incredible, as a partner in your important work.  

This subtle psychological shift can do wonders for banishing any nerves, by flipping a simple question: rather than asking “What can I get from this funder?”, ask instead “What can I offer this funder?”. Herein lies the antidote: the power dynamic changes in our minds once we stop feeling like we’re only asking for money. We have something genuinely amazing to offer when we’re inviting someone to be a part of what we’re doing. And that mindset, in turn, tends to fizzle out those jitters. 

Give it a try. The next time you need to make that call or are about to step into that funder meeting, redirect your focus to what you have to offer instead of what you want to get – your funder-jitters are likely to calm down, and you might just find that your income even goes up.  

Neela Jane Stansfield is a major gifts fundraising consultant at Fundraising Training Ltd and the author of Grants Fundraising (DSC)