How our biases hurt our fundraising

I’ve been mulling over this topic for months, maybe years. As a nonprofit professional, we often have to

I’ve been mulling over this topic for months, maybe years. As a nonprofit professional, we often have to rally people around a common goal and overcome objections. It can be challenging, it can even drain every ounce of energy we have. But here’s the thing, I’ve come to realize is that objections from other fundraising professionals often comes from a place of fear.

Fear of the unknown. Fear of failing. Fear of looking bad. Fear of appearing unprofessional.


Tell me if this sounds familiar.

You are sharing with your fundraising team the latest research on donor behaviour and proceed to lead a conversation on how your team can leverage the results of the study into creative donor engagement opportunities. Then Suzy chimes in and says: “that’s all fine but we’ve done tests 5 years ago and our donors don’t respond to XYZ”.

Your response ….

What happened?

Suzy thinks she is well-intentioned but in fact, she’s trying to maintain status quo. Why? Because of fear. For her, at this moment, the status quo is more comfortable than exploring a different way of doing the task.

But what’s really at play here?

I believe what’s really at play is unconscious bias. Unconscious bias is a prejudice or unsupported judgement in favour, or against, a thing, person, or group as compared to another which results in one person benefiting.

In this example, Suzy is prejudiced against an idea that could help the organization build stronger relationships with its donors. Because of her bias, she risks penalizing the organization and donors by enforcing the status quo.

Here’s the kicker: we all think we are open-minded but research has shown that the beliefs and values gained from family, culture and a lifetime of experiences heavily influence how we view and evaluate both others and ourselves.

These thought patterns, assumptions and interpretations – or biases – we have built up over time help us to process information quickly and efficiently. From a survival standpoint, bias is a positive and necessary trait.

However, at work, bias can be costly. It can cause us to make decisions that are not objective; and ultimately we miss opportunities or, in this case, penalize donors and the organization.

Is there a way to overcome this?

Yes, I believe so, but it takes time and patience. This is where our major gift asking skills will come in handy! Ask questions, dig deeper, peel that onion to get at the core of the bias.

Maybe Suzy feels overwhelmed; maybe she doesn’t believe your team has the support of management; maybe you don’t have the technology to execute to project; etc.

Until you get to the core of the issue, remove those barriers and get passed it, you will be doomed to fail or you will alienate a colleague, or both!

As a leader, you must find ways to address these biases head on if you want to have a cohesive and collaborative working relationship your team members. It won’t always be easy but understanding those biases will then help you develop better fundraising strategies and build a stronger fundraising team.

If you want to read more about this topic, I recommend you head over the the Harvard Business Review and read their article called The Hidden Traps of Decision Making.

What has been your experience with office bias? How have you overcome them? Write me a message below and I’ll be sure to answer quickly.

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