Alleviating “Ask Fright”

We’ve all heard of stage fright – that fear that grips a performer when the lights come on and the audience is watching intently.  A favorite method of alleviating stage fright is to take the focus off of yourself as the performer.  Instead, acting coaches will encourage the performer to focus on the audience.  “Imagine them in their underwear!” is the classic instruction.  For many students, they focus (and laugh) on the underwear part.  But the truth is, overcoming stage fright is about focusing on something or someone other than yourself.

If you’ve been around the development field long you know that there is a fear that cripples people’s capacity to do good much stronger than simple stage fright.

I’m talking about “ask fright” – or the exceedingly negative and visceral response that many volunteers have to a request to assist in any meaningful way with the development program.

“Ask fright” takes a variety of forms.  From complete paralysis (“no, I don’t talk to people about money”).  To flu-like symptoms in which the volunteer coughs, begins to sweat, and shows increased lethargy, especially as it pertains to returning your phone calls!

Regardless of the excuses given (and there are many), many volunteers struggle with asking for a gift.  They may care deeply about your institution.  They may give of their time, talent, and treasure in model-esque fashion.  But many express an intense dislike for being with you when another person is asked to make a financial commitment.

It turns that the cure for “ask fright,” is similar to the cure for stage fright.  Namely, to get the focus off of oneself and onto others.   Now, I wouldn’t suggest you tell your volunteers to imagine the prospect in their underwear.  But, one way I attempt to re-focus volunteers who struggle with “ask fright” is by asking – and help them answer – a simple question:

For whom are you asking?

As a volunteer, you are not asking the prospect to support you.  Therefore, you should not take their response personally.

You are not even asking the prospect to support this institution.  Our institution is simply a vehicle to serve.

Instead, you are asking the prospect to support those we serve – our students, patients, clients, etc.   You asking the prospect to help transform individual lives and make a difference in our community, our country, and our world.

The prospect may say, “yes”.  The prospect may also say, “no.”  Or, the prospect may say, “I’ll get back to you.”  Whatever the response, just know that it isn’t about you.  Fundamentally, they are responding to an opportunity to support those we serve.  When we re-focus the attention of our volunteers away from their role in the work and onto the lives we will impact through philanthropy, we have a chance to cure “ask fright.”

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