How Do You Keep Your Passion for Fundraising Going?
Have you lost that lovin’ feeling?
Burnout ... sigh. It happens to the best of us.
When you begin, you’re bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to conquer and take the fundraising world by storm. If optimism were a tangible good, you’d have enough to load up a truck. You look toward the future as a destination filled with passion and possibilities, something perfectly attainable.
The proof is in the pudding. You’ve just launched your monthly giving program, landed a grant from the very foundation that declined your organization’s proposal last year, and landed your first major donor. Your board members are making those thank-you calls on the regular and wholeheartedly supporting your mission through their own donations. All of those important numbers are up.
And then, the smooth sailing halts, and you hit a rough patch. Your spring appeal isn’t pulling like you thought it would (even though you followed all the best direct-mail guidelines), the donor you’re trying to set up a meeting with appears to be avoiding your calls, and then the day’s mail brings a declination letter from the foundation that has funded you for the past three years (“We want to go in a different direction this year,” it notes).
Overnight it seems, everything that was going so great has shifted, and the bottom has dropped out of your world. All of the blood, sweat, tears and hard work—and hope—and for what?
We’re in precarious positions, aren’t we? In the day-to-day grind of the life of a fundraiser, it can be almost too easy to lose your motivation, lose sight of what you want and even stop paying attention. As you hit roadblock after roadblock, your optimism and hope diminish, along with your capacity to take action and move forward.
How can you not only practice enthusiasm on a daily basis, but communicate it to others in your organization in an impactful way? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if enthusiasm were contagious? Well … how can you remember that you literally are changing the world—when your daily reality consists of dealing with a database created in Excel, spending a week putting together a grant proposal only to learn that the previous development director neglected to respond to two requests for a report on a grant from 2014, or any other face-palming, fist-balling, desk-slamming annoyances?
Key words: “literally are changing the world.”
Remember those words because they’re genuinely exciting. Give their positive energy the ability to fuel your day-to-day thinking and, in turn, fuel your enthusiasm for the wonderful work that you do. Enthusiasm is the best habit a fundraiser can have—and to create a habit you’ll need to practice every day. It’s also the best habit many fundraisers aren’t practicing. I understand it, I do. It’s so easy to get caught up in it all, and there are cases when it can be hard to not feel negative.
So I suggest that you make a concerted effort to schedule some enthusiasm time by trying these five tips:
- Begin with gratitude. You’ll remember this one because I’ve repeated it often enough! Early on in my career, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon consultant Hildy Gottlieb’s article, “The Sound a 'Thank You' Makes.” I still remember the day when I began making daily gratitude calls back in 2005—and the many insights they brought to my work. When it comes to fundraising, gratitude is a tool that sheds light in a way few other things can. Are you making gratitude a habit? When was the last time you picked up the phone and called a donor?
- Be sure to schedule a minimum of one day a month to spend “in the field.” When I worked at a grant-making foundation, one of the biggest highlights was the opportunity to attend a site visit—to actually see a program that we were funding (or planning to fund) in action. Likewise, as a development director, I always have made it a point to schedule time to spend with the individuals actually performing the important work that the organization does. This is super energizing and puts an entirely new perspective on your work. Extra tip: Always bring along a digital camera and think about picking up a small recorder.
- Take a board member out to coffee. I see this all the time: We have a tendency to think of our board as an entity, rather than a group of dynamic, varied individuals. It’s amazing what you’ll learn when you schedule some time to sit down with your board members on a one-on-one basis. Find out what makes them tick and what motivated them to get involved with your organization—and what their views of success are.
- Query your database for—no, not for the usual top-donor listing—but for your 20 most loyal donors. Put together a gratitude pack to let them know how much their support means—and follow up each with a subsequent call and meeting so that you can deepen those relationships!
- Step outside of your comfort level. How? The nonprofit world can be an insular (and sometimes stuffy) one. Instead of relegating your training dollars solely to fundraising or nonprofit courses, consider a motivational workshop, an online marketing course or speaker’s training. Trust me, these things will intersect in ways you never dreamed possible, breathe life into what you do and offer you brand new perspectives.
How do you maintain your enthusiasm on a daily basis? Bounce some ideas my way because I’d love to hear what’s worked for you and your organization.
Pamela Grow is the publisher of The Grow Report, the author of Simple Development Systems and the founder of Simple Development Systems: The Membership Program and Basics & More fundraising fundamentals e-courses. She has been helping small nonprofits raise dramatically more money for over 15 years, and was named one of the 50 Most Influential Fundraisers by Civil Society magazine, and one of the 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants by The Michael Chatman Giving Show.