Are Your Money Beliefs Sabotaging Your Fundraising Success?

What if you can’t teach people to fundraise by teaching them how to fundraise? What if learning the how-tos, the what-to-dos, and the why-to-dos of fundraising isn’t enough? What if after all that, people still don’t want to do it?

Those ambivalent feelings you — or your ED and Board members —  have about fundraising often goes back to beliefs about money itself and to beliefs about people who have money.

For over 20 years, I’ve been talking with people about the connection between their money beliefs and their feelings about fundraising. It’s a complicated topic for most fundraisers, and there aren’t many places to explore what’s really going on.

When I’m coaching leaders through their ambivalence around fundraising, the biggest mystery to solve is often:

What Did You Learn About Money Growing Up?

All of us have had our relationship with money shaped by our personal experiences — and so often we haven’t examined what we learned.

Everybody — no matter how much or how little money you had growing up — was taught how to think and feel about money. Most of the time, the lessons you were taught about money were taught indirectly. It takes some work to understand and unpack what money beliefs you learned.

money-beliefs

You can start to unpack what you learned by exploring the answers to these prompts:

  1. Growing up, I learned that money…
  2. People with money are…
  3. I would have more money if…
  4. Money makes people…
  5. My Dad thought money was…
  6. My Mom thought money was…
  7. My first job was… and I used the money to…
  8. Talking about money makes me feel…
  9. If I had more money, I’m afraid I would…
  10. If I could afford it, I would…
  11. If someone asks me for money, I feel…
  12. What does the word money conger up for you…
  13. In my family, money always caused…
  14. If I weren’t so cheap, I would…
  15. When I have money, I usually…
  16. Not being able to afford something makes me feel…
  17. Being around people with more money than me makes me feel…
  18. Being around people with less money than me makes me feel…
  19. What else do I know about money as a result of the life I’ve lived so far…

We all learned some version of the scarcity mindset

Regardless of how much money we were raised with, most of us learned some version of the scarcity mindset.  The scarcity mindset is a set of ideas based around the idea that there’s not enough of the pie to go around.

The scarcity mindset can sound like this when it comes to fundraising: “There’s not enough… money, time, resources, or staff.” “If we only had more donors, we would be better off.”  “We will never get the grants that organization gets.” “That other capital campaign is going to crush our hopes of succeeding in ours.”

And it’s not just the fundraising team that can fall into scarcity thinking. Your organization and the nonprofit sector as a whole tends to cultivate a scarcity mindset. But there’s another way. You can question what you learned. You can ask if it’s really serving you. You can instead opt for an abundance mindset.

The best fundraisers are optimistic and hopeful. They believe a different world is possible. That there is enough to go around. That things can change. The best fundraisers are always about abundance and possibility.

How do you feel about asking for and receiving help?

Our relationship with money and our feelings about fundraising is also impacted by our feelings about asking for help. For a second, don’t think about fundraising. Think generally about asking, receiving and giving help.

Write down how you feel when you need to ask for help.

Write down how you feel when you have the opportunity to help.

Write down how you feel when you receive help.

If you’re like most people, you don’t like having to ask for or receive help. It might be because when you are on the asking and receiving side of things, you feel vulnerable, dependent and powerless. And the opposite is true when you are on the giving side. Because when it comes to giving help, you probably feel differently — you probably feel really good when you’re able to help someone.

Fundraising can trigger your inclination to want to be independent — and your negative feelings around dependency and vulnerability. But the reality is that being human means you are interdependent. None of us can survive and thrive on our own. None of our work can be accomplished without each other’s support. And when you ask for and receive help, you are also offering the opportunity for others to give help which feels really good to the person you asked.

Maybe fundraising isn’t just about asking. Maybe it’s also about learning how to receive. About learning to be grateful. About seeing yourself and your organization as an equal and offering people the opportunity to get involved and make a difference.

How do you (really) feel about people with money?

 Connected to your feelings about money is how you feel about people who have money. Often those money beliefs you learned growing up included messages about people who had more money than you did. 

You hear all the time that fundraising is about relationships. But how can you build a real relationship with someone you resent or mistrust. How can you build authentic, real relationships with donors that on another level you are deeply ambivalent or even hostile towards?

When you haven’t fully examined your relationship and history with money, you can often project feelings, assumptions and stereotypes on people who have more money than you.

Isn’t it curious how you can be so committed to keeping the humanity at the center of your language and relationships with clients and those you serve, and then throw that out the window when it comes to talking about your donors? Using language to describe donors like: “those” people, ladies who lunch, the country club set, rich people, fat cats, they’re loaded, and the one percent.

Because when you really stop to think about it: what do you really know about your donors? As people, not just as check writers. Do you know what they really care about — not related to your work, but related to theirs? What they are worried about? What keeps them up at night? Do you know what their money baggage is? Because guess what, they have it too.

 

Bringing it all together

 Until you explore your relationship with money, you can’t be a fully effective fundraiser. It’s the most overlooked and under examined barrier that’s holding your fundraising back. Left unexplored, your money beliefs create resistance to you fully embracing fundraising and building authentic and meaningful relationships with your donors — the kind of relationships based on partnership and interdependence, not transactions and money. In the end, it’s all about you knowing yourself, taking responsibility for what you feel and believe, and deciding how you want to show up in your fundraising.

Want to dive into this more deeply? Download my popular free e-book on this topic. It’s a great conversation starter and tool for sharing with your colleagues and board members, alike.

Amy Varga

Amy Varga

President

Since 2013, Amy Varga and her team at The Varga Group have worked with over 60 higher education institutions, independent schools and nonprofits through their services in capital campaign counsel, major gifts training, leadership coaching, and board development projectsThe Varga Group has helped our clients raise more than $90M over the last six years. The Varga Group team is based in Portland, Oregon and works with clients nationwide.

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