Project: Companies to Classrooms
Challenge: Fear of fundraising
Breakthrough: She can't take rejection personally
Takeaway: Skills for making the "ask"
Several years ago, Cary Weatherby,of Bloomington, Minnesota, salvaged a huge box of alphabet stickers that were headed for the Dumpster, castoffs from a local business that had changed filing systems. She delivered them to a grateful kindergarten teacher at her children's school who had exhausted her minuscule budget for supplies. Then Weatherby thought, "There's probably more of this stuff out there," and Companies to Classrooms was born. Now the 52-year-old "stay-at-home" mother, who spends most of her time running the nonprofit, wants to create "free stores" stocked with surplus business products for teachers across her state.
At the conference on Saturday morning, she finds signs posted around the ballroom describing different emotional reactions to negotiating: "It's a piece of cake." "It makes me feel powerful." "I try to avoid it." "I worry about how others are going to react." Linda C. Babcock, PhD, a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University and co-author of Ask for It, has instructed the women to stand near the sign that best expresses the way they feel. Weatherby plants herself next to: "Negotiating is like going to the dentist."But listening to Babcock, she realizes that she should ignore the voice in her head saying, "Watch out; don't be pushy" or "Are you sure you're good enough?"
"It's not the voice of experience or common sense," says Babcock. "It's not even your own voice. It's the voice of society. It's holding you back, it's cutting you off from the opportunity to broaden your life, and it's costing you money."
The part of negotiating that's most like a root canal for Weatherby is "the ask": actually requesting money from individuals or institutions. She hates getting turned down, takes it personally, feels debilitated. But in a Sunday seminar, Julia Pimsleur, a veteran fundraiser who has worked for more than 10 years in nonprofits, suggests a different mind-set. "You're offering something that stirs your passion, and anyone would be lucky to be involved," Pimsleur says. "When you get a no, it could mean, 'We don't know you well enough' or 'It's not a priority right now.'"
During Pimsleur's session, Tori Hogan asks what standards donations should meet—she's raising money for a project that will assess international aid programs to determine which ones really work. "Choose two or three issues you won't compromise on," says Pimsleur. "Personally, I don't feel comfortable taking money from pharmaceuticals, tobacco, or alcohol. But too broad a list is unnecessarily limiting." Weatherby has faced the same funding dilemma—to seek investors and go into debt or to work with a limited budget—that is raised by another winner, Cheryl Mathieu, who has created an online resource for caretakers of the elderly. Pimsleur throws a question back at them: "Do you want to own a big piece of something small or a small piece of something big? It's hard to take your company far and fast on your own, but with help you can become the biggest player." Ignoring the negative voice in her head, Weatherby realizes that player could be her.
Are you looking for funding too? Learn the art of "the ask" in a Negotiation Basics primer withyour set of worksheets.
Additional reporting by Polly Brewster, Kristy Davis, Lauren Dzubow, Brooke Kosofsky Glassberg, Dorothea Hunter, Kate Sandoval, Blythe Simmons, Sara Sugarman, and Carolyn Wilsey.
Support for rooms and meals was provided by Affinia Manhattan Hotels, Philanthropiece, and the Sunshine Fund.