Becoming a Fundraiser at Exhale
I am an international student from China at Lincoln University in Oakland who is striving to become a psychotherapist. In order to get some real life experience about counseling and enrich my understanding of people, I came to Exhale to become a talkline counselor. I was attracted to Exhale not only because of its excellent counselor training, but also because of its attitudes toward women after an abortion: pro-voice, which reflects genuine care and a real will to understand people with abortion experiences, to listen to them without assumptions or judgments.
As a talkline counselor, I also joined Exhale’s fundraising team to support Exhale’s year-end fundraising campaign. This has been my first fundraising experience. Before I joined the team, fundraising seemed to be like begging. I felt nervous, anxious and intimidated with the idea of having to ask strangers for money. It seemed like a big challenge.
Learning the Basics: getting fundraising training
Before I even got started, the volunteer fundraising team received training. Our trainer, Holly Fincke, brainstormed with me and other trainees about our concerns and feelings. I said that I was worried about whether I was going to be criticized, rejected, or even humiliated. Holly reassured us. She said that as fundraisers, “we were bound to be rejected.” It was like magic. I felt relieved. Holly taught us that what mattered for fundraising was that as volunteers we were doing important work for women and their families. We were not merely asking people for money. Fundraising is a way for us to advocate for human rights.
During the training, Holly guided us to do an exercise: each of the trainees randomly got a bag, some of which contained a lot of candies whereas some contained almost nothing. Our job was to use the candies that each of us had to exchange with others for what candies each individual wanted. It turned out that most people got what they wanted by trading, and that “the rich” gave a lot to “the poor” and offered others to take whatever people wanted.
After the training, I had a new concept about fundraising. Now I regard fundraising as a way to put money where values are and gather the community power. Also, as fundraisers, we aren’t begging; we offer donors an opportunity to give, to make them feel good about themselves by being a part of something meaningful and worthwhile.
Trying It Out: getting fundraising experience
Fundraising was not as intimidating or dramatic as I imagined. After the fundraising training, each of us was assigned five past donors of Exhale to call over a week. Although I still felt kind of nervous right before I dialed the first phone number, I knew I would be fine because Exhale didn’t give us pressure but support: Holly offered us to call her whenever we felt stuck.
The fact was that no one hung up the phone harshly. No dirty words were said to me, though I did get many voice mail greetings. Even though some past donors were not able to renew their gifts, they expressed their care for Exhale.
In the following training session, we trainees debriefed our calls, feelings and concerns stemming from last week’s calls. The trainers took our suggestions and I felt trainees’ feelings were heard. And in the following week, I got more phone numbers to call, but this time I felt much more competent. As Exhale volunteers, mostly we call people who have already given to Exhale, so it’s not like we’re trying to “sell” anyone on something. We’re a part of the same pro-voice movement already.
The Big Picture: practicing my values through fundraising
Before I joined the fundraising team, I asked Aspen Baker, the Executive Director of Exhale, about her experiences with fundraising. She said that for her fundraising is about building relationship with donors and potential donors. She’s not worried about money; she cares more about if she can share her belief and value with people who have similar interests. What a deep idea. People are willing to support Exhale when they believe our work is valuable, and then, money follows.
One more thing I’d like to share with new fundraisers: Don’t forget your internal passion and keep in your mind the reasons why you are doing what you are doing. It’s true that sometimes fundraising is not easy, but our job is not merely to cope with problems. Our job is to do something valuable for Exhale and to do something meaningful for people.
Shihan Qin is an international student from China at Lincoln University in Oakland who is striving to become a psychotherapist. She volunteers at Exhale as a talkline counselor, fundraiser and blogger.
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