5 Tips to Maintain Your Enthusiasm as a Fundraiser

August 16, 2010

Several weeks ago I was chatting with a board president of an educational organization over lunch.  I’d been brought in for an hour long fundraising training scheduled during the organization’s retreat.

“Well,” he remarked with more than a touch of resignation in his voice, “we really don’t have an easy mission to sell – like cute animals or starving children.”

Hmmmmm …. red flag alert.

Immediately following lunch several of the organization’s students gave a short PowerPoint presentation on a community service project trip they’d taken the previous month.


What utter joy to watch these kids’ faces absolutely light up as photographs of their trip flashed by.  For every one of them this trip had been their first time traveling outside of the United States and it was clearly an eye-opening experience for them.  And then it was time for questions …

Utter silence from the board members.  In fact, a couple of them had left the board room during the kids’ presentation and were outside in the hallway on their cell phones.  Not a single question was raised.  The students had already clearly been nervous about presenting before the board and now, as none of the members appeared even remotely interested in what they had to say, they looked downright uneasy.

Imagine that … here we were witnessing, first-hand, exactly how this organization was successfully changing lives and yet none of the board members had any questions.

But I had questions.  Lots of them.  I wanted to know if the kids’ perceptions of poverty had changed … I wanted to know if the trip had affected their plans for the future … always the “foodie” I wanted to know what their favorite foods had been.  I asked away and was rewarded with an outpouring of enthusiasm (not to mention some awesome stories) from this terrific group of kids.

Now I’ve got to tell you that this organization’s mission certainly looked like an *easy sell* to me … and, sad to say, they just weren’t paying attention.

Chances are you’ll never encounter that kind of board in your work, but it’s not difficult, in the day-to-day grind of the life of a fundraiser to lose your motivation and, yes, to stop paying attention.  How can you practice enthusiasm on a daily basis?  How can you remember that you’re literally changing the world – when your daily reality consists of dealing with a database created in excel, or 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 2008?

Enthusiasm is the best habit a fundraiser can have – and to create a habit you’ll need to practice every day.  Schedule some enthusiasm time and try these five tips:

  1. You’ll remember this one – I’ve repeated it often enough.  Early on in my career I was fortunate to stumble upon consultant Hildy Gottlieb’s article, The Sound a Thank You Makes. I immediately put her concept into practice and now regularly recommend a minimum of 30 minutes a day spent on the phone with donors and volunteers.
  2. Be sure to schedule half a day a month to spend “in the field”  When I worked at a grant-making foundation, one of the biggest highlights was always 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’ve always made it a point to schedule time to spend with the individuals actually doing the important work of the organization.  It’s energizing and it puts an entirely new perspective on your work (Always bring along a digital camera and think about picking up a small recorder.)
  3. Take a board member out to coffee.  It’s amazing what you’ll learn when you schedule some time to sit down with your board members one on one.  Find out what made them get involved with your organization – and what their view of success is.
  4. Query your database for – no not for the usual *top donor* listing – but for your twenty most loyal donors.  Put together a mailing of packets with a note asking them to pass a packet on to their friends.
  5. Step outside of your comfort level.  How?  The nonprofit world can be an insular one.  Instead of relegating your training dollars solely to *fundraising* courses, take a motivational workshop or an online marketing course.  You’ll be surprised at the advantages!

How do you maintain your enthusiasm on a daily basis?

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Erica Holthausen August 16, 2010 at 5:43 am

These are great ideas! It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and so nice to have a reminder that the work we do does make a difference — and our enthusiasm is contagious!

Years ago, when I was the Director of Marketing and Development at a start-up arts organization, we used to celebrate Sundae Wednesdays. The entire staff would go out to the local diner and order ice cream sundaes for lunch. It was a great way for us all to connect — in a less formal and fun way. Occasionally a board member or two would join us. As a result of this practice, we were a very tight-knit staff. Sundae Wednesdays always ended with each of us feeling even better and more positive about our work. It was also a great way to get energized in the middle of the week.

Thank you, Pamela, for the great post — and bringing back a really fun memory!

Pamela Grow August 16, 2010 at 5:55 am

Oh I love it Erica! (who wouldn’t love ice cream sundaes for lunch? 🙂

It’s also about maintaining an *attitude of gratitude* as your response illustrates.

Roger Carr August 16, 2010 at 11:57 pm

These are great tips Pamela. I am just curious about your lead-in story. I understand how the staff can get so involved in the day-to-day work that they lose track of the impact they are making. But if these individuals on the board have no passion for the cause, why are they board members for this organization in the first place? I am glad I am a part of a caring board that wants to be engaged.

Pamela Grow August 17, 2010 at 3:20 am

Thank you for commenting Roger. This was certainly an isolated incident and, overall, my experiences with boards has been very positive.

Lori L. Jacobwith August 17, 2010 at 4:12 am

My rule is we as staff are 100% responsible for our board members success. Now they have to do SOMETHING too. But if we let our board get stale, bored or disengaged…then it’s our job to put the connection back in so they can take it from there.

Great reminders, Pam, on re-engaging!

Bunnie Riedel August 17, 2010 at 5:59 am

Wow! Wonderful tips. But I think the thing that most grabs me is the board members leaving the room…uh…okay.

Sandy Rees August 22, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Great info Pamela! Having testimonials or stories from people your organization serves is a great way to reconnect with your passion for fundraising, no matter if you’re staff or volunteer.

Sherry Truhlar August 25, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Pamela, I love that you put actions to develop enthusiasm some people describe it as a quality people are born with (alternatively, without).

I have seen clients keep testimonials and thank yous posted on staff bulletin boards. While staff may grow numb to the handwritten cards over time, they are reminded of their impact when they get a chance to show those off during a site tour. Having a photograph or written reminder front and center in our work place can help us stay enthused.

Jeremy Douglas, advice-for-good.com March 23, 2011 at 8:35 am

Thanks for the great post Pamela! I also hear a lot of people complain that their cause isn’t ‘sexy’ like puppies or children. I think your points do a good job of addressing this. Especially number 2 – going into the field is often a paradigm shifting experience and completely re-energizes fundraising efforts.

Beth Ann Locke April 27, 2011 at 9:38 am

Pamela – I loved this reminder! It can be easy to get swamped by the “in office” concerns at a non-profit and be distracted from the joy of the mission. Your story of the board meeting presentation also grabbed my attention – of how leadership may become bored/complacent but staff can – and should – be conduits to remind them of the real terrific work being done. Thanks!

Pamela Grow April 27, 2011 at 9:51 am

Thanks for writing Beth Ann. Reconnecting with what makes your organization great – whether it’s by regularly shadowing program staff, talking to clients, thanking donors – provides awesome fodder for your marketing efforts too.

Suzanne Bakker August 30, 2011 at 8:57 am

Dear Pamela,
Thank you for the useful post! One thing I can add from my own experience in a non-profit working in other countries, where staff would sometimes find it a hassle to travel (not me, though) is that the people in the field always greatly appreciate a visit. If you’re not that enthusiastic to go on a field trip, their enthusiasm for your interest in what their are doing will cure you soon enough!

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