Your Fundraising Should Be More Vulnerable


Today’s post is all about vulnerability – a quality your organization needs to have if you want to be more successful when raising money.

I’m going to illustrate vulnerability using four quotes from Brene Brown. Brene is a research professor who’s done deep research on courage and vulnerability. (She probably doesn’t know it, but much of her work applies directly to fundraising!)

If you apply the principles she discovered to your fundraising, you’ll be better at engaging and keeping your donors.

“Through my research, I found that vulnerability is the glue that holds relationships together. It’s the magic sauce.”

Donor relationships are a lot like human relationships. Donors like to feel needed, and they like to feel appreciated.

Weirdly, most nonprofits in my experience are lousy at doing this. And it starts with an inability to be vulnerable.

For instance, they might ask their donors to “partner” with them, or ask for “support.” But most nonprofits rarely ask for help as if they really need it.

Go look at your fundraising materials. Just scan them. Do you get the impression that your organization or your beneficiaries really need help?

I’d like to suggest that if your nonprofit was more vulnerable to your donors you would engage your donors more deeply, keep them for longer, and raise more money.

In my experience, organizations raise a lot more money when they are vulnerable.

“Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.”

I think one of the reasons there’s a massive donor retention problem in Fundraising is that most donors feel so little connection with the organizations they donate to. And I blame that mostly on poor donor communications. Most nonprofits are constantly talking about themselves and taking credit for everything they’ve done. You can look at the materials of many organizations (especially their websites!) and never know they even have donors.

Think about your relationships with other humans. Do you feel connected to, and valued by, the people who are always talking about themselves? Nope.

If you want to experience connection with your donors, be vulnerable. Tell them that their gift (or their volunteer hours, or their Board service) are needed. Tell them that you’re doing as much as you can, but you need their help. Tell them that you’re not reaching everyone who needs help, but that you could reach more people if they donated.

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

It’s hard to ask for money. For most of us, it’s unnatural. And I think that’s why organizations tend to pussy-foot around it.

It takes real courage to ask boldly for money! Much of my work is with leaders of organizations helping them overcome fears about Asking. They don’t like it. Or they think it will reflect poorly on themselves or the organization. They come up with all kinds of crazy rationalizations for why they shouldn’t ask.

This week I heard a doozy from an ED: “I need to be the positive leader, but staff can encourage donors to give…”

I submit to you that’s not good leadership. Nor is it courage. It certainly isn’t vulnerability.

Here’s what that ends up looking like in appeals and e-appeals (as always, these are actual sentences from actual appeals):

  • “Will you help us do more of this good work?”
  • “Will you partner with us to help those in need?”
  • “Thank you for your determination to support our staff.”

Do you see any real need or vulnerability there? Neither do it. Neither do their donors.

When looked at through this lens, is it any wonder that an appeal that ends with…

  • “There are people right now who need help, but we don’t have the budget to reach them. Will you please send a gift today to help them?’

…will raise more than an appeal that ends like this?

  • “Will you help us do more of this good work?”

Ask courageously! The things you fear won’t come to pass. Or if they do, it will be in such small measure compared to the incredible generosity you see from your donors.

“I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.”

As a nonprofit, here’s how to pay attention and practice gratitude: watch every gift come in with joy and amazement. Think of the incredible connections you just formed between your donors and your beneficiaries! Think of the incredible good you just did!

Because remember: your donors LOVE to give! They love to support you. They love to help your beneficiaries or cause.

I think there’s incredible joy to be had in courageously stating a need, asking for help, and then watching generosity pour in.

I know you get numb to it after a while. Unless you are careful, the amazing generosity of donors pretty quickly just gets thought of as “monthly revenue” – every single time a gift comes in to your organization.

If there’s a ‘spiritual practice’ that most nonprofits should be doing, it’s practicing gratitude.

Because if you practice gratitude regularly, you become more grateful. And when you’re truly grateful for your donors, you will be comfortable being vulnerable with them. Vulnerability is where connection and relationship happens. You do that, and you’ll build a tribe of donors and an organization that can change the world.


Steven Screen is Co-Founder of The Better Fundraising Company and lead author of its blog. With over 25 years' fundraising experience, he gets energized by helping organizations understand how they can raise more money. He’s a second-generation fundraiser, a past winner of the Direct Mail Package of the Year, and data-driven.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *