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Donor Participation Project

Overcoming Fundraiser Biases: The Inner Game of Asking for Money

As fundraisers, we often focus on understanding donor biases and how to motivate them to give. But we have our own biases that can undermine our effectiveness. Cultivating the right mindset is key to overcoming fundraiser biases, according to fundraising leader Kenna Barrett, Ph.D..

Barrett identifies several common fundraiser biases, including optimism bias, pessimism bias, and negativity bias.

  • The optimism bias leads us to be overly optimistic about the outcome of a meeting or event. We put “all our eggs in one basket,” ignoring potential obstacles.
  • The pessimism bias causes anxiety and leads us to expect the worst in challenging situations like asking for money.
  • The negativity bias causes us to dwell on past failures while ignoring our successes.

To overcome these biases, Barrett recommends “the inner game of fundraising.”

First, cultivate a persistence mindset. Believe fundraising is a learned skill, not an ineffable talent restricted to certain types of people.

Second, use “system 2” logical thinking, not just emotion. Prepare for meetings by considering potential questions and obstacles. Ask a colleague to role play a skeptical donor. This helps avoid being caught off guard and anchors you to a reasonable request amount.

Third, rehearse and practice. Role play the entire meeting with a colleague. Work through different scenarios to gain confidence in responding to unexpected situations. Recording and reviewing these sessions can provide valuable insights into how you can improve. Practice helps fundraisers gain skills that translate across roles.

Fundraiser biases often reflect anxiety about failure or discomfort with ambiguity. But fundraising excellence comes from cultivating the right mindset, logical preparation, and practice.

Role play, a technique used extensively in sales and other professions, is key. It provides a “mental rehearsal” to overcome biases and gain the confidence and skills needed to succeed. With practice and persistence, fundraising can become less about biases and more about activating our potential.

View the full recording of this session in our Resource Library.

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