The Mindful Art of ASKING

Oct 23, 2017 | Fundraising and Giving, Philanthropy Journal, Resources

Bringing a mindful approach to fundraising can greatly improve the solicitation process. Mary Lin McBride from Mindful Resolution suggests a helpful acronym to center oneself before that next big meeting.

Special to the Philanthropy Journal

By Mary Linda McBride

The appointment is in a few minutes. You have done all the right things to prepare for the solicitation and still, you’re anxious. 

Are we asking for the appropriate amount? Is the timing right? Did I assemble the best team for the meeting? You envision a host of unfortunate outcomes. Your palms sweat. You think, do I really want to do this?

Many new and even not so new fundraisers recognize this feeling. For many volunteer fundraisers, including members of your Board, it’s common.

Bringing mindfulness to the process can help. Mindfulness, simply put, is the ability to be aware of the present moment, including thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. By practicing mindfulness, you can observe your thoughts without feeling emotionally hijacked by them. You can fully direct your attention to the moment at hand, engendering a sense of inner calm and connection to others.

Mindfulness is an innate human capacity that can be strengthened through training and practice, much like building a muscle. Meditation is the formal practice for building the mindfulness muscle. 

However, meditation is not the only way to practice Mindfulness. We can apply it to virtually any activity – eating, a conversation, driving a car. And any fundraiser can greatly improve the solicitation process by bringing a Mindful approach to ASKING.

  • Attention: Direct your attention to the present moment. Resist the urge to review the steps that brought you to this meeting (the past) or what the outcome will be (the future). By keeping your attention anchored in the moment, you are more likely to notice as challenges and opportunities arise, and have the clarity to respond creatively and effectively.
  • Steadiness: Bring awareness to your breath. Allow it to be steady and even. If you feel especially anxious, elongating the exhalation can help. Try breathing into the count of four and breathing out to the count of six or eight. As you settle into the rhythm of your breath, notice any places in your body that feel tense or tight. When exhaling, see if you can relax those areas – check the jaw, shoulders, chest, and belly. 
  • Kindness: Be kind to yourself and extend that kindness to everyone involved in the process. It’s likely that your donor and/or volunteers are also feeling apprehensive. Placing your hand in the middle of your chest as you settle your breath is a great way to engender an attitude of compassion toward yourself and others. That’s because this simple gesture can trigger a release of oxytocin in the brain and this neurochemical sparks feelings of warmth and connection to one another!
  • Intention: Remember your intention. Ultimately, asking for a gift is not about your fundraising goal. It’s about creating change and transforming lives. It’s about health, safety, innovation, beauty, justice, or protecting precious resources. In the solicitation process, you are asking your donor to enter into a partnership to co-create something significant. It isn’t personal, it’s the business of transformation.
  • Non-Striving: Adopt an attitude of non-striving. Focus on the process rather than the outcome. When you are not striving to get to yes, you will be more attentive to the donor’s verbal and non-verbal cues. This level of attention is key to determining the best next steps, whether the answer is yes, no, or maybe. With an attitude of non-striving, even a no can set the stage for understanding how to continue engaging your donor in a way that best serves his/her interests and level of commitment. 
  • Generosity: You are providing your donor with the opportunity to exercise generosity. We all know that being generous makes us feel good, and now, neuroscientists believe that generosity can actually make us healthier. “When individuals engage in generous and altruistic behavior, they actually activate circuits in the brain that are key to fostering well-being,” says Richard Davidson, director of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Engaging in philanthropy is the ultimate win/win situation. 

Bringing mindfulness into your work can sharpen your focus and improve your relationships. You will find the principles of ASKING to be useful anytime you engage with donors, not just during the solicitation process.

Try it. Let me know how it goes.

Mary Linda McBride is the founder of Mindful Resolution, a firm that specializes in workplace mindfulness training. Ms. McBride spent 20-years in nonprofit management, primarily as a fundraiser, and taught nonprofit fund development at North Carolina State University.

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