We all have a desire to connect with others. Yet, we’re afraid to. As small children, we felt free to be our true selves. Then, something happened. Bullying, shaming, abandonment, or tragedy happens, and we learn to protect ourselves by not letting others see “all of us.”

As a frontline fundraiser, when we’re not able to bring our whole, real, and complete self to our work, it becomes a liability over time.

Because this work is all about connecting with people, it requires vulnerability.

I see this play out when I witness frontline fundraisers create a “workaround” from asking donors for gifts by sending them written proposals instead. Or when they create a story in their head that a donor doesn’t want to be asked; they just give every November and that’s it. I also see it in how they avoid getting too close to the need. It’s hard and uncomfortable, so they shy away from it.

This lack of authenticity in fundraisers has real, revenue-related consequences for the non-profit. And it hurts the donor by not allowing them to be their whole selves in their giving when the fundraiser is afraid to ask, or doesn’t ask boldly enough.

Without being vulnerable, a frontline fundraiser will never be as effective as they could be for their organization or for the donors they serve.

As Brené Brown says, vulnerability is about “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. It’s that unstable feeling we get when we step out of our comfort zone or do something that forces us to loosen control.”

Being vulnerable allows donors to bring their true selves to the relationship and creates opportunity for them to be authentic and real with you. This giving stuff is highly emotional and personal. Without understanding the donor’s passions and interests and why they have them, you’ll never reach a transformational level of giving.

And being vulnerable is not just important for creating meaningful donor relationships. Your colleagues, friends, family, partner all become more trusting and closer to you when you show up as your whole self. But it’s not easy opening yourself up. How do you start?

In this great PsychAlive article by Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., she presents five ways to practice vulnerability:

  1. Ask for what you need.

    When we’re hurting, it’s easy to dismiss our pain or try to protect ourselves and the people around us by closing off. Achieving close connections means being willing to speak up when we’re in need. Admitting that we need someone to lean on or that we’re struggling or need help allows our loved ones to feel for us and respond to us in ways that bring us closer.

  2. Be willing to expose your feelings.

    Sometimes we are afraid to expose our feelings even to ourselves. But acknowledging and accepting our feelings is an important part of being in touch with ourselves and sharing ourselves with others. A big part of strengthening our connections involves being willing to share how feel with someone else.

  3. Say what you want.

    As a therapist, I’ve sat in a room with so many couples who are very good at stating exactly what they don’t like and don’t want from their partner. This leads to a lot of tit for tat and back and forth that gets them nowhere. Instead of blaming each other and complaining, I encourage couples to say what they want from their partner. It’s usually much harder for partners to do this.

    When they take a chance and try and get in touch with what they want and do say what they want, they often feel sadness from opening up and being vulnerable. Their voices and expressions soften. Often their partner no longer feels on the defense, and their body language changes, turning toward their partner and really feeling for the other person. It’s touching to see the connection people feel for each other when they’re strong enough to be vulnerable and say directly what they want.

  4. Express what you really think.

    In addition to expressing our wants and needs, it’s important to be honest about our point of view and showing our real selves. Our relationship should be a space in which we aren’t afraid to say what we really think. This doesn’t mean being insensitive or unnecessarily hurtful, but it does mean offering an authentic exchange. We should be open to giving and receiving feedback without being overly defensive. Remembering that we are all human and therefore flawed can help us have more self-compassion and interest as we engage in more honest exchanges.

  5. Slow down and be present.

    Part of vulnerability is being willing to be in the moment with someone else. When we listen to our critical inner voice or spend a lot of time in our heads, we can miss out on intimacy. Looking our partner in the eye, listening to what they have to say, and being willing to give time and attention to the moment are acts of vulnerability that are often harder to do than we imagine. Yet, engaging in each of these behaviors keeps us closer to one another and to our own feelings.

Imagine the possibilities with your donors, colleagues, and family, if you could allow yourself to be truly authentic and vulnerable in your relationships? I’m going to leave you with another Brené Brown quote that I really like:

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage. People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses.”