You might think introverts can’t be fundraisers. However, it’s the one-on-one connections that raise the most money.
I am an introvert. I have also been a professional fundraiser. Yes, the two do go together! I have been the head of fundraising for various organizations, the executive director of two of them, a board chair, and a volunteer fundraiser. Each time, I excelled.
After 25 years of hands-on experience, I started an organization called Asking Matters. I wanted to help everyone feel more comfortable and be more effective as fundraisers, in particular the all-important building of relationships that leads to bigger gifts. In that capacity, I train both board members and staff.
Recently, I authored, Fundraising for Introverts: Harnessing Our Powers for What Matters, to empower my fellow introverted fundraisers. I wanted them to understand their incredible talents, and I wanted their managers and peers to value us introverts fully. Because we do rock as fundraisers — and the non-profit sector needs us.
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Busting the Fundraising Myth
Along with the Loch Ness Monster is the myth that one must be super extroverted to be a fundraiser, that someone must be rather outgoing, glad-handing, and schmoozy. Someone who would show up, as Andy Warhol once said, for the opening of an envelope. Someone akin to the worst stereotype of a car salesman.
Well, I can’t disprove the myth of the Loch Ness monster, but I am living proof that the myth of the extroverted fundraiser is just that. I bet many of you are proof of it, too.
For some reason, when people think volunteer fundraiser, they think of a person who hits up all their friends for money. Someone who asks everyone they know to buy tickets to an event the donors probably don’t want to attend just because you, the volunteer, have been tasked with filling a table or some such nonsense.
Well, that is the worst kind of fundraising — what we call transactional fundraising — and it stinks regardless of which side of the transaction you’re on.
I don’t teach it as a professional and I won’t do it as a volunteer. My friends know I won’t. I say to them, “You give to your charity, and I’ll give to mine.” Otherwise, it’s a less-than-zero sum game (check out this post to learn why), and it’s not helpful to anyone’s cause.
Why Good Fundraising Needs Introverts
Good fundraising is about building close, personal relationships, and introverts are fantastic at it. For every minute of small talk and chit-chatting that we can’t stand, we love nothing more than rich, one-on-one conversations. It’s the deep listening and relationship-building that raises the most money.
Think about your own philanthropy. Where do you give the most money? Generally, where you personally care; where you have a relationship to the organization and, often, the people in it. Usually, the top gifts go to our alma maters, our places of worship, and medical organizations we care about. Or maybe to an organization that’s helped someone we know. Or one where we’ve been involved as a volunteer.
And the biggest gift is never the first gift. Often, that’s a gift that tests the waters. If the organization uses it well, and if they keep you informed and enthusiastic over time, the gifts often get bigger. That could lead to what we call “major” gifts, capital campaign gifts, and even estate gifts.
So, what we need our volunteers to do is not hit up everyone for a transactional gift today, but to build relationships with a few people that could lead to consistent, larger-over-time donations. Donations that are not about your relationship to the donor and your ability to arm-twist or make a gift in return, but donations that come because the donor is now directly (and personally) connected to the institution because of your superb stewardship.
Do you ever struggle to know what to say?
As an introvert, you actually have the ability to be an amazing conversationalist — even if you’re quiet and hate small talk. To learn how, we recommend this online course from our partner Michaela Chung. Click here to check out the Introvert Conversation Genius course.
Introverts Are Great at Stewardship and Relationship-Building
Introverts excel where it counts, even as behind-the-scenes leaders. The tasks that truly build relationships are in our sweet spot. Great stewardship and relationship-building means…
…writing an incredible, personalized thank-you note that shows how important the gift is and that the donor has been seen. Introvert — check!
…sending a wonderful update email saying, “I was just at a volunteer meeting and learned some incredible news I immediately wanted to share with you.” Introvert — check!
…asking a donor out to coffee to learn more about why this cause you love is meaningful to them and taking the time to learn the donor’s story. Introvert — check!
…continuously educating a donor so they can have the same enthusiasm you have. Introvert — check!
But I know — what about the events?!
Okay, Let’s Talk About the Dreaded Fundraising Events
We can’t just ignore events, so let’s spend a minute on them. Yes, they’re mostly the bane of our existence as introverts. I never, ever want to be in the company of a lot of people. I find it exhausting and unsatisfying. I can’t relate to that many people at once; I feel out of place. I find myself arriving early so I’m not overwhelmed entering a full room and leaving early as I run out of steam.
Professionally, it makes me anxious to have all these donors in one place at the same time. How do I make them all happy? Some will find the music too loud. Others, too soft. Some will feel they didn’t get enough attention, or they didn’t like their tablemates, or whatever.
At a fundraiser, I’d rather divide and conquer. I’d rather have meaningful, one-on-one conversations with the people in the room who really care about the organization than chit-chat with everyone, including those who are present for some transactional reason.
Along the way, I had an “aha” moment: I don’t have to schmooze everyone! I can pick and choose. Let my extroverted peers work the crowd, while I hone in on a few key people. Let them excel at the cocktail hour while I excel at a table. Let them excel in the moment while I excel at following up with the loveliest, most thoughtful thank-you note, and all that amazing stewardship and activism during the year.
Even more, do I really have to be there? Do you? Maybe not. How about taking back the night and saying you’d love to help but in ways that take advantage of your (introverted) talents and strengths? Who said that you, as a volunteer fundraiser, must go to these events?
Just Say No
When someone asks you to be on an event committee, ask if you can work behind the scenes and avoid the night. Similarly, when someone asks you to sell tickets, ask if you can focus on stewardship. Or just say events aren’t your thing, but you are available anytime for site visits with donors, or to represent the organization anywhere you can tell your story effectively (i.e., one-on-one).
I will probably get flack for this, but just say no! Volunteer work should be rewarding. It shouldn’t give you incredible anxiety and make you feel bad. That is not a recipe for success.
As a staff member, I would hate for my volunteers to feel that way, as I know it will diminish their love for the organization — not to mention their desire to remain involved. We’ve got to stop putting volunteers (and this includes board members), in terrible positions that don’t take advantage of their abilities.
So, fellow introverts, embrace all your amazing fundraising qualities to help the organizations you love so passionately, and be clear about where you draw the line. And remember: Introverts rock!
My new book, “Fundraising for Introverts: Harnessing Our Powers for What Matters”, is available in paperback and ebook wherever you buy your books. If you’d like to learn more about the book and download some free resources, check us out at fundraisingforintroverts.com.
You might like:
- Launching a Startup? Here’s How to Raise Money the Introverted Way
- How to Be an Activist When You’re an Introvert
- 10 Survival Tips for Introverted Leaders
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