When you’re calling a donor for the first time, what does that feel like? Terrifying?

Well, this might make you feel better: did you know that 48% of sales people say they’re afraid to pick up the phone and make a cold call?

This came up on a live Veritus Group Academy call recently, where one of the participants shared how he felt fearful around making calls to donors he doesn’t know. His honest vulnerability opened the door for almost everyone else to chime in that they did too!

Which can be hard to admit because shouldn’t every fundraiser be good at these calls?! I think that assumption prevents us from sharing the truth. Most fundraisers dread, avoid, and don’t enjoy making calls to donors they don’t know. If you happen to be gifted at these calls, then celebrate that ability and apply these concepts to another area that makes your palms sweat.

Regardless of what causes you anxiety about your role as a fundraiser, you’ve probably experienced something called “avoidance coping.” Avoidance coping is when we try to avoid stress or deny our emotions rather than dealing with them directly. It might feel like a great way to become less stressed in the moment, but by not confronting the problem, it actually increases your stress. Now, you not only have the stress and emotions coming up about making those donor calls; you also have the emotions of guilt, fear, regret, and more because you know deep down you are not doing your job as well as you want to. It may give you a momentary relief, but then it piles on and weighs so much more.

Maybe your avoidance looks something like this…

  • You decide that you really should do a bit more research before calling, so you spend your time on the internet instead of making the call and never get to it.
  • You decide it would be wiser to send another letter or email instead, so it’s less intrusive.
  • You don’t schedule time on your calendar to make those calls, so it keeps getting pushed out and never happens.
  • Or maybe you make a few calls and felt relieved that you only had to leave messages, and you don’t make any more calls.

So, how do we face our fears head on and stop piling more stress onto our lives? Jonathan Fields, author and entrepreneur, says that often when we think about failure “we do so in a vague, exaggerated way – we’re afraid to even think about it clearly.” That reminds me of when I would get up in the night as a little kid and I would leap from my bed, so the boogie man underneath couldn’t grab my feet and pull me under. I had no clear notion of what was under my bed; I just knew it scared me and wanted to avoid it at all costs.

A good place to start, to dispel that boogie man, is with questions that help you identify the fears that influence your decisions and behaviors. You are essentially turning on the light and looking directly under you bed. Grab a notebook and pen or your computer and spend 30 minutes processing these questions below. I know you have spent at least 30 minutes avoiding calls in the past. I know I have, so let’s do something productive with that time.

Focus on the positive feelings associated with taking the risk:

  • Why would I want to do this thing or make this choice, even though it scares me?
  • How might things change if I were able to overcome this fear?
  • Why am I doing this?
  • Within this scary possibility, what excites me?
  • If I were to succeed – what would that look like?
  • What does it feel like when I’ve had a great call with a donor?

When I think of the why, what comes to mind is the opportunity to build a relationship-based fundraising program that makes donors a part of your community. Many times, donors have not experienced anyone from a non-profit taking the time to reach out, get to know their passions and interests, and connect their hearts to the mission in meaningful ways. They have only had transactional experiences where they are asked for a gift or thanked for giving a gift.

You are not reaching out to make a sale or manipulate donors into doing something. You are reaching out to start building a relationship of trust. That is pretty exciting.

When you reach that donor who wants to chat, there are feelings of elation and meaning. It reminds you that this is why you do this work. And we know that only one in three donors who meet your metric for giving actually want a relationship with you. So, you are sifting through the list and finding those who do.

If you’re feeling blocked by the prospect of rejection, here are some questions to help you reset:

  • What is the worst that could happen?
  • And – how would I recover from that?
  • What is failure?
  • If I were to “fail,” what would be the likely cause?
  • How does avoiding it feel, compared to doing it?

Fear thrives when we don’t face it head on. Fear thrives in a place of inaction. By facing your fears with honesty, remembering why you are doing this, identifying what failure actually is, and creating action steps, you’ll feel much more in control and less stressed out.

Now, you’re ready to start identifying your next steps:

  • How can I take one small step toward action and making calls?
  • What if I knew I could not fail? What would I do next?
  • What would I do differently if I was not afraid?
  • How can I use my answers to these questions above to support and motivate me to make these calls?

Maybe your next small step is to work on your call script so it’s more authentically you, and then practice it until you don’t need a script anymore. Maybe you need to identify three great open-ended questions you can ask when you get a donor on the phone that will lead to more meaningful conversations. Maybe it’s scheduling uninterrupted time on your calendar each week to make calls for 30 minutes at a time. Maybe you need to write up your why or any other inspiration or clarity you gained from processing these questions.

Whatever it is, remember that it’s better to face your fear head on, and that you can do this.

And be sure to share how this has shifted things for you! We’d love to hear from you.