What We Talk About When We Talk About Money

Money.  Some people will say that the love of it is the root of all evil.  Others think it is the major measure of success.  Many of us, and I do count myself in this group, have a difficult relationship to it. Money was not something my parents had in abundance.  Which is a polite way of saying they had very little, indeed.  I never wanted for anything, but it was made clear that everything I had cost money and money did not grow on trees.  This made my sister marry rich and me extremely frugal.

Beyond beliefs about money, there is the generational element.  Not that younger people are more profligate than I, just that they have a different understanding of it.

My first husband and I thought that if we could ever earn a combined income of $20,000—wow!  We would be rich.  Beyond our wildest expectations.  Earn that amount today—each—and you are not expecting to be able to buy very much.

And then there is the fact that in this country, people will tell you their deepest, most intimate secrets about sex, but ask them how much they earn, and they will go ballistic.  THAT is private!

All of which is to explain why we get so crazy when we talk about fundraising,

Fundraising, after all, is all about money.  And that makes most of us pretty uncomfortable.

The upshot, alas, seems to be that even development professionals, never seem to get around to talking about money. We skirt the issue, dance around it, and wherever possible, keep as far away from a potential donor as possible.

Changing this dynamic means changing your attitude.  As Pogo so famously said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

First of all, recognize that the money you are asking for is not for you; it is to support an amazing organization, cause, or program.  And if you don’t think that your organization, cause or program is amazing, well, go get another job (or volunteer somewhere else).  To successfully raise money, you must first passionately believe in what you are doing.

Fine, you say.  I am passionate about our organization and what we do.  I understand that this to help our clients, push our cause.  But I still feel uncomfortable.

Many years ago—bear with me here, I will get to the point—I was about to speak in front of a crowd of over 200 people.  It was my first public speaking experience.  And I was scared.  My hands were sweaty, my heart was pounding, there was a roaring in my ears.  I took a deep breath and said—aloud—“boy, this is terrifying!”.  Not what I had expected to say.  And suddenly, I stopped sweating, pounding and roaring.  Best of all, the audience laughed and applauded.  They were with me.

Why not try that with your prospect?  Tell them that, even though talking about money makes you very uncomfortable, it is so important that you are forcing yourself to ask them for a gift of a certain amount.  And, of course, you will actually say the amount.

Even if you are not ready to ask—you just want to start engaging them—it is a good thing to mention money, and the amount you eventually hope they’ll give, from the start.

Warren Buffet, a man who certainly knows money, says that you should never “waste [your] time or that of the other party by talking, even preliminarily, about a transaction when price is unknown.” Who am I to argue with Warren Buffet?

Above all, remember that we in the nonprofit sector are really talking about when we talk about money is our mission and the incredibly important, critical things that we accomplish and for which we need enough money.


Janet Levine Consulting works to help nonprofits go from mired to inspired.  Let us inspire you.  Call me (310-990-9151) or email (janet_levine@mac.com) and ask for your free, 30-minute consultation.  And do checkout our website: http://janetlevineconsulting.com