The Antidote to Fundraising Fear Is…


So it turns out that the antidote to fundraising fear is a Swedish custom called “fika.”

Fika is pronounced “fee-kuh,” and it’s a custom of people getting together to have coffee and treats together. 

One of our customers practices fika each day, and here’s their genius move: while they are together, they open the mail and have an intentional, shared moment of gratitude for each gift.

I love it.  And, finding this out helped explain something I’d already noticed about this organization: the incredible grace and equanimity with which they handle complaints and pushback on their fundraising.

Now, fika and responding to complaints might not seem related, but they absolutely are…

Emotional Balance Sheet

You see, nonprofits tend not to emotionally acknowledge the generosity behind each gift that they receive. 

Usually this happens for two reasons:

  • The sheer volume of gifts makes it easier to think about each day’s gifts as “revenue” instead of individual acts of generosity and sacrifice.
  • The people who receive and process the gifts are often different from the people who send out the fundraising.  So the Fundraisers only experience the response to their work as a number on a spreadsheet. 

For many people in nonprofits and in Fundraising, even if the balance sheet fills up, there’s little emotional experience of the gifts.  The emotional balance sheet remains unfilled.    

So when a complaint comes in, the organization is knocked sideways by the emotion.  Suddenly they are dealing with a human with a complaint, not just “revenue” or a percentage point in the response rate.    

You know what happens next – the complaint receives outsized reaction.  There’s an immediate urge to change fundraising messaging or strategy to make sure this never happens again.  Some staff members wrongly assume that the Complainer is speaking for more people than him or herself.  Fears of the mythical “donor fatigue” are whispered.  Flee!  Run for the hills!  (I’ve written extensively about this in our free eBook about complaints.)

But when an organization has more of an emotional connection with all of the gifts that have come in – and all the generosity and emotion and sacrifice they represent – then a complaint or pushback from an internal stakeholder is just one piece of negative data. 

And it’s just one drop of negative data in an ocean of generosity and emotion and sacrifice.

In that case, the complaint is given the appropriate amount of attention.  No more and no less.  You’re so thankful for the 47 gifts that came in yesterday that you can easily respond to a complaint with warmth and compassion instead of fear.

December Goals

This is being posted on the last day of November.  And you are going to receive a LOT of gifts in the next 31 days.

Each of us should spend time in gratitude for the gifts that come in.  We should get a little emotionally closer to the generosity and sacrifice behind each gift. 

I guarantee you that visiting the mail room each day (or even just scrolling through the names of online donors) will make the inevitable complaint or pushback easier to handle.  Because somebody is going to say they don’t like one of your urgent year-end messages.  Or a Board member is going to complain about how much fundraising you send out at year-end. 

But if you and your organization emotionally feel all the gifts that have come in, those drops of negative feedback will dissolve in the ocean of generosity.

Emotionally acknowledging each gift will also bring you great joy at what you’re a part of.


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.

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