Fundraising Requires A Great Deal of Courage – Not Just the Courage to Ask

I hear it often. I ask an advancement leader how a particular fundraiser is doing or ask a president how an advancement leader is doing or ask a board member how a president is doing.

“Well,” they say with a mixture of admiration and/or resigned vexation, “S/he isn’t afraid to ask.”

I question the importance of the criterion and don’t believe it should be at the top of the list of fundraising attributes.

First of all, skilled fundraising is about facilitating a dialogic process that should culminate in an agreement, one in which all parties feel confident if not enthusiastic. If done well, it should not require anyone to be courageous in making an ask. The response to the ask should be a foregone conclusion. The ask should be just a matter of protocol. No one should be holding their breath about what the donor might say. The process should have been designed to allow the prospective donor to raise every possible question and concern, and to have each answered or allayed. And, as noted by many seasoned practitioners, a well-designed fundraising process often leads the prospective donor to be the first to ask, “How can I help” or to make an offer of support based on the project’s cost. If we share pending initiatives that correspond to donors animating passions and invite them into the shaping of the plan, they will often self-solicit.

Second, there are many other areas of fundraising where courage really is required but are all too infrequently cited by organizational powers-that-be or in our professional literature. I have cited some below and, as always, invite your suggestions.

Capable, caring, conscientious fundraisers have convictions and cannot realize their full potential without demonstrating the courage of them.

Is “The Courage to Ask” As Important As:
  • The courage to resist internal pressures to ask too soon
  • The courage to gracefully withstand unreasonable donor requests
  • The courage to point out why an organizational need is not likely to attract external support
  • The courage to remind organizational leaders of unmet promises made to donors
  • The courage to respectfully rebut a misguided strategy proposed by a board member
  • The courage to raise the question if an organizational practice is pushing ethical boundaries
  • The courage to question if an organization can deliver on real or implied promises made in pursuing or after securing a gift


Jim Langley is the president of Langley Innovations. Langley Innovations provides a range of services to its clients to help them understand the cultural underpinnings of philanthropy and the psychology of donors and, with that knowledge, to develop the most effective strategies and tactics to build broader and more lasting communities of support. Jim has authored numerous books including his most recent book, The Future of Fundraising: Adapting to New Philanthropic Realities, published by Academic Impressions in 2020. 

Related Resources:


Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Get smarter with the SmartIdeas blog

Subscribe to our blog today and get actionable fundraising ideas delivered straight to your inbox!