How You Can Get Comfortable Using the “F” Word

Man shocked.

I recently heard a client tell me, “I find it hard to even talk about fundraising at work. It’s like it’s a dirty word.”

Do you feel like this, sometimes?

It’s a common struggle among fundraisers as we work to educate our co-workers and internal teams to the necessary, yet nuanced world of fundraising.

And yes, the “F” word is Fundraising.😀

The misconception in many organizations is that fundraising isn’t really a function of our mission. Instead, fundraising is the activity that nobody likes to talk about.

And it’s you, the fundraiser, who suffers.  Often times folks in fundraising feel the internal tension that their task is simply not seen as important as the boots-on-the-ground work that the organization is doing.

I’m sure you’ve heard some, or all of these objections when using the “F” word in your organization…

“That story is too sad, we can’t share it with donors.”

“We’re sending too many letters to our donors, we should stop.”

“We should be telling the donor more about the good things we do.”

“We don’t need to raise money for the programs you want to talk about.”

“This letter implies that we need help.”

Well, here are 4 tested and proven things you can do right now to help remove the internal tension and get folks more comfortable with using the “F” word.

1. Meet With Your Teams

To help educate internal teams on the importance of fundraising at your organization, schedule a short meeting that gives folks a simple overview of what fundraising is, and why it’s necessary for the mission.

This doesn’t have to be a long, bloated meeting.  In fact, I would recommend to keep it short and use visuals, like a PowerPoint presentation to get your point across.

Donuts help, too.

Better Fundraising regularly does these presentations to programs teams, leadership, and boards, and find that folks walk away with a much clearer understanding to what fundraising is, and why it’s not a dirty word.

2. Share Your Appeals with Internal Teams

It’s often overlooked, but taking some time to walk around and literally handing internal staff a copy of your next direct mail appeal works wonders.

That’s because a common complaint from many internal teams is that they don’t know what’s happening in fundraising, and what donors are receiving. 

So, handing out a copy of your next appeal gives you opportunity to build relationships, answer questions face-to-face, and develop goodwill with all stakeholders.

3. Run a Kick-Off Meeting

It’s a great idea for your Fundraising Team to have a kick-off meeting for every campaign. 

The kick-off meeting is a great way to provide non-fundraising staff with an overview of the campaign, its components (letters, emails, events, etc.), the fundraising offer, story, and messaging, plus internal goals and objectives.

This meeting is not designed to be a discussion about “how” or “why,” but rather answering the “when,” “what,” and “where” for the campaign. 

Set the expectation at the start of the meeting, and invite participants to stay behind after the meeting for questions and clarification, if needed.

4. Food

Folks working in nonprofits generally don’t need a reason to share morning tea and snacks with each other.  Food brings people together, so take advantage of it!

If the weather is nice outside, consider having your fundraising team host a BBQ or picnic. Or have fundraising staff each bring a pie, cookies, or something delicious to put in the lunch room.

The key is to email your organization staff and let them know that the Fundraising Team is doing this, and to come and grab something to eat.

These ideas sound simple, and in many respects they are.  But they are proven ways to educate folks to the importance of fundraising in your organization, remove tension with internal teams, and get you confidently using the “F” word, again.

The Three Practical Empathies


The work of a Fundraiser involves empathy for others.

Empathy for your beneficiaries or cause so you can tell their story.

Empathy for your organization and its programs so you can share about them.

Most nonprofits are full of empathy… but they often miss empathy in three key places…

Empathy for Donors

Practical empathy in fundraising allows you to give a gift to donors by ‘crossing the gap’ to their level of understanding.

To understand what it’s like to be in a donor’s chair.  To know what she knows.  To know what she doesn’t know.  And speak to her in language she understands, at a level of knowledge that makes sense to her. 

That’s empathy for donors.  (Which is helpful, because fundraising is for donors, not for internal stakeholders.)

But the problem with fundraising that’s empathetic to donors is that internal stakeholders don’t prefer it.

Empathy for Internal Stakeholders from Fundraisers

Another necessary practical empathy is from Fundraisers towards internal stakeholders who don’t understand as much about fundraising as Fundraisers do.

Because when you create fundraising that’s empathetic to donors, it’s often not liked by internal audiences.

For instance, program staff, board members and executive leadership often don’t understand that:

  1. While internal conversations are (and should be) full of industry jargon, fundraising communications should avoid jargon because most of your donors don’t know what it means.  But internal stakeholders prefer jargon because its accuracy is helpful to them.
  2. Direct response fundraising is different than interpersonal communication.  While a 1-to-1 conversation might wander around to establish relationship and common ground, a direct response e-appeal needs to get to the point immediately.  But internal stakeholders aren’t usually familiar with direct response best-practices and – reasonably – would never use them themselves.
  3. While a grant application might detail the finer points of your organization’s programs and approach, the average reader of an appeal letter isn’t interested in those details.  But internal stakeholders know those details make your organization effective!  To not include them in an appeal feels wrong.

But internal stakeholders weren’t trained in direct response or any other types of fundraising.  Empathy is needed to understand the concerns of internal stakeholders, to speak directly to their concerns, to help them understand what you’re doing with a generous spirit and solid explanation.  Share your knowledge.

Empathy From Internal Stakeholders Towards Donors

The final necessary practical empathy is from internal stakeholders towards donors.

In my experience, the best approach is for Fundraisers to help Board and Staff through the same transformation you went through when you learned to cross the gap

Share with Board and Staff that the same empathy they use to understand your beneficiaries can (and should) be used to understand your donors.  For example, your organization is effective because it understands the problem you’re working on, meets it where it is today, and creates small, practical steps to make things better.

Great fundraising uses the same approach: understanding the donors, meeting them where they are today, and creating small, practical next steps donors can take to make things better. 

Embracing the three empathies is often what unlocks an organization’s fundraising potential. 

Which helps an organization help its beneficiaries even more.