What’s the one thing that holds us back? What gets in our way of being extraordinary?

I’ve got one word for you: fear.

Whether rational or irrational, our fears keep us from moving forward. Think about the last time you wanted to make a change to your fundraising program. Did you make the change, or did fear of the unknown hold you back? Did those pesky fearful thoughts of will this work creep into your decision making? Did you make the safe choice—the same choice you made last time because you knew the results— or did you push your fears aside and take a new path?

More often than not, fear wins when it comes to making choices about your fundraising program. 

And, I have to admit, it drives me bonkers. When I’m not blogging, I spend my days managing an amazingly talented team of fundraising consultants.  This topic of fear came up the other day in a team meeting and it reminded me of an old post I wrote.

To help us conquer our fundraising fears, we need to leave the fundraising universe and broaden our minds. In honor of Throwback Thursday (#TBT), here are my thoughts on fear.  As a side note, I originally shared this in 2013 – hence the #tbt and yes, I know the Pats won this year.

On February 3rd the underdog won out and the Baltimore Ravens became Super Bowl champions! It’s a little crazy that’s it’s taken me until April to write about my champion Ravens, but I guess all things come in due time.  I hope you’ll stay with me as share some insights I’ve learned from a coach who influences more than just his players.

In 2008, the Baltimore Ravens made what some would say was an unconventional hire when they named John Harbaugh as their new Head Coach.  Harbaugh, aka Harbs was a special teams coach – not a defensive or offensive coordinator, he wasn’t a hot college coach… he was a special teamer.  In his interview Harbs laid out his plan, his vision for the Ravens, and I guess it wowed the brass; he landed the job.

In the press conference to introduce Harbs as head coach, he shared his vision:

There are three important things to putting together a football team. No. 1 the team. The second most important thing is the team. And the third most important thing is the team.  We’ll stick with that through and through.

His words stuck with me.

It’s always about what’s good for the team.

Some may say that Harbs inherited a good team, that his climb to the Super Bowl was inevitable.  But in a league nicknamed “Not For Long”, inheriting a good team means little.  During his first five years he’s been tested.  He’s made tough decisions and dealt with releasing fan favorite veterans to make way for untested rookies— all for the good of the team.

In his first five years, Harbs and his team of Ravens have been to playoffs every year. They’ve made it to three AFC championship games, including one in New England I still can’t talk about. Before every game, commentator’s make their Super Bowl picks. This year, all the CBS commentators picked the 49ers, except for one—Bill Cowher. He picked the Ravens.  Super Bowl winning coach Cowher knew something the other commentators didn’t. While everyone was wowed and enamored with Colin Kapernick, coach Cowher knew that one person doesn’t win championships; teams win championships.

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with you and your fundraising goals, right?  Everything.

It’s about having faith in your plans and trusting your convictions, regardless of your fear of the unknown. Harbs didn’t know what the outcome would be, but he had faith in his plan and his team’s abilities. 

I spend my days talking to organizations who are asking for proven results.  I often hear “that’s a good idea! But who’s tried it?”  What I’ve learned is that we’re really good at fundraising, but not so good at taking risks.

Sometimes risks are necessary.

There will be ups and downs. It won’t be perfect. But what you learn along the way will help you make better decisions.

You’re not always going to have a proven formula. Sometimes it takes an unlikely coach to help you win a championship.  Sometimes you have to make tough decisions and let veterans leave for fresh eyes and new ideas.

Perhaps it’s time for you to take what you’ve learned and try something new.

I was watching the ESPY’s and Robin Roberts was honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. I knew Robin survived cancer and was then diagnosed with a blood disease as a result of her chemo, but I didn’t know Robin’s story.  It was incredibly moving. In her acceptance speech, she shared many valuable insights, but my favorite was:  when fear knocks, let faith answer the door.

Fear is what often holds us back from reaching our potential.  Don’t let fear hold you or your programs back.  While hope isn’t a strategy, sometimes you just need to have a little faith—faith in yourself, faith in your team and faith in your plan.

Until next time… When fear knocks, let faith answer the door.  Thanks Robin!


Amy Braiterman, principal strategy consultant at Blackbaud, supports customers with their peer-to-peer fundraising events with a process she refers to as “data-driven strategy.” Amy’s data driven strategy analyzes how effective event participants are using online fundraising tools and takes those results to develop an event fundraising plan. Prior to joining Blackbaud, Amy earned her fundraising stripes managing events for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Alzheimer’s Association and Share Our Strength. She shares her fundraising know how here on npENGAGE, by hosting educational webinars and speaking at customer conferences

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