What Are We Afraid Of?: Smart Ways to Conquer Fear and Raise Money

What Are We Afraid Of?: Smart Ways to Conquer Fear and Raise Money


Andy Robinson


Andrea Kihlstedt

Big news in the fundraising world: an awesome new book just came out, full  of exercises that will really actually work to help you Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise Money. This is an interview with the authors Andy Robinson and Andrea Kihlstedt just for RAISING CLARITY!

To start us off, I wrote to Andy and Andrea:

“I’ve been training in fundraising for decades. I’m super-picky about the exercises I create and use. I generally make up my own. But I love yours! I was honored to be a reader of your book and give you my take on it, and when I got my copy, I was delighted to review it on Amazon.

“You’ve created a set of exercises and a guide to using them that is both simple to use and yet can benefit even very sophisticated people who fundraise. It’s an amazing, delicate dance you’ve done. You make it look easy both to fundraise and to have written a book that does such a delicately balanced dance between simple and sophisticated. As the Lewis Carroll poem asks, “Pray, how did you manage to do it?”

Andy Robinson responded first:

I think Andrea and I have both learned, over many years, to trust the members of any training group. They already know more about this subject (really, almost any subject) than they think they know. That’s why we prefer to use flip charts to PowerPoint. Flip charts assume expertise on the part of the participants and it’s the presenter’s job to help draw out that expertise and write it down. In this spirit, here’s a blog post on flip charts vs powerpoints.

Andrea’s colleague Tomijean Fernandez* read the earlier draft and gave us a lot of specific feedback about structuring the exercises. For example, she suggested that we:

  • design the exercises sequentially and number all the steps
  • itemize every step, even small things.

Also, she put a big emphasis on debriefing questions to help everyone make meaning from the experience of doing the exercise. If they are designed well, the debriefing questions reinforce everyone’s expertise, because they are open-ended and all answers are correct and helpful.

Andrea Kihlstedt showed me how to take this interview one step deeper when she added:

I agree with Andy, but there’s another part of this topic. I think it takes great courage to be a good trainer–far more courage than just lecturing. Great trainers must give up control. They design the group process with a clear intent and then they turn the content and learning parts over to the participants.

Again and again, people think of training as providing content. And that’s not what a good trainer does — a good trainer designs group process to pull the content from the participants! But to become a designer of group process is a very new idea for most fundraisers.

Most people in the fundraising business have little chance to learn how to design group process. But that’s what good training is…a group process design challenge.

So for Andy and me, to make even the simplest exercises possible for most people who are non-trainers, we had to spell them out very clearly. The process of training — even simple training — is really a very sophisticated piece of work that has little to do with fundraising.

New trainers invariably worry about what’s going to happen when they stop talking. What if no one says anything at all and they are left in front of the room looking like fools? I have certainly worried about that.

So our book had to spell out the process of how to work with groups in great detail or we’d loose people from the start.

My very next question was obvious:

How do you work with the fear/worry, and cultivate courage?

Andrea responded first–and her answers apply to all kinds of fears:

I’ve found three things have worked for me over the years. They work best in combination. And I do all of them again and again. Even now at nearly 70!

1. Become a student of training. Learn the skill by watching someone who’s really good at it do it–putting myself in the learner mode. I did this years ago by signing up for some programs at the Gestalt International Study Center.  These participatory learning programs really opened my eyes and changed the way I think about many things.

2. Pair up with an expert. There’s nothing like working with someone who knows what they’re doing. They provide a bit of safety to what would otherwise be too scary and teach you along the way. For me Tomijean Fernandez and Michael Miller served that role.

3. Try it out in a small, safe setting. I often do a trial run of something with people who are friends and who know it’s a trial. You can set it up that way. Then, you find out what works and what doesn’t and you can redesign and try again in a broader, less familiar setting.

Andy agreed with Andrea (!) and added a resource that helps with all fears:

I’ve attached an exercise from the book called “What Are We Afraid Of?”  just for variety’s sake It’s about fundraising, but really, it’s about anything. One answer, per the exercise, is to examine our fears in the light of rational day and see if they are worthy of the energy we invest in being afraid. Some fears have merit, but most — especially in the fundraising arena and, I believe, as a trainer — do not. Clearly the rational mind doesn’t always win, but it’s one way to enter the conversation.


*Tomijean Fernandez can be reached at tfernandez@aclu.org

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