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Fundraisers: How Can You Stay Motivated?

Over my many years of fundraising, people would ask me how I stayed motivated, how did I get up with joy to do what I did? It is true that every morning I was very motivated. It is part of my personality to be optimistic and driving. This optimism also springs from the quality of partners I have in the organizations with which I choose to work, to the generosity of remarkable donors and prospects, as well as to the powerful mission of the organizations with which I am involved.

Personal Characteristics of Solid Fundraising Officers

While successful fundraising officers all are different and require different interpersonal approaches, they do have some key characteristics in common:

  • Ability to listen and empathize with everyone–whether it is an organizational leader, a donor or prospect, a person from another organization or each other.

  • Hunger and ambition of the type that creates and fuels itself with success on the job.

  • Confidence that they can meet people, establish relationships, create excitement and secure support.

  • Passion for their work as well as the mission of the organization.

  • Tenacity in that they can stick with it even when things may not be going 100% in the chosen direction. Years when revenues are down and prospects are not responding can be tough.

While there are many other important qualities that also emerge, these key traits, coupled with an outstanding mission and compelling goals, can establish a solid foundation for fundraising success while reinforcing motivation.

Motivation from Those Around You

The ambition that development officers feel must stay alive through encouragement of their partners. These can be your colleagues within fundraising (humor in every situation can be reinforcing), your supervisors, program leaders, board members, volunteers, prospects and especially donors. They all have a shared dedication to the mission of the work. They also want to succeed.

One other group who motivates can be members of their families. I remember one particular gala for which I was responsible about 20 years ago. Many unfortunate issues abounded that night. I was very depressed when I arrived home at about midnight that evening. My then six-year-old daughter had insisted that I wake her and tell her about it when I got home. I did that. I shared my feelings and I was very embarrassed that it was a gala for which I was responsible. She asked, "Did you raise any money? How much?" I told her $2 million. She yawned and just as she was ready to sleep again, she said with all childhood innocence, "Well, that sounds like a big success to me." That night she surely helped me to find the silver lining. I have never forgotten that and it encouraged me to get to work early the next morning and many mornings after that.

Motivation from Those Who Benefit from Your Work

A major force providing motivation is from those who benefit from the mission. It is not difficult to find motivation to raise funds for scholarships that benefit high school students moving on to college (and coming back to build their lives in our communities). Or for support programs for children who live in challenged communities. Or for adults with so many different and complex brain diseases, for wound healing for burn victims, for patients and families with ALS. The list goes on and I have had the good fortune to work with all of these groups. As one gets to know the beneficiaries of these efforts, it is even easier to find a way to expand resources for such important causes.

Working with Neil and Suzanne Alexander on the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute Live Like Lou Center for ALS Research was so motivating for me. Neil had been diagnosed with ALS at age 46 and he and Suzanne had two young children. But they decided that they wanted to make sure the field of ALS was left in a better state than they had found it. They dedicated themselves to providing awareness, support and care for patients, and a strong research program. They devoted themselves to remarkable fundraising to launch and sustain this center. As they never lost hope, I surely could not afford to slack off; I had to regroup every single day. I admired them both and what they were able to accomplish together as partners, still sustaining their children and those around them, all the while Neil growing had to face the day with the courage that they were showing. Any alternative was not acceptable.

Abby, Neil, Suzanne and Patrick Alexander

When a donor gives an extraordinary gift with extreme joy, it is wonderful to share the moment as well as the impact of each gift. Less than a year ago, I was brought to tears when a donor funded an endowed chair for cancer with real determination, focused intent, and the simple delight in making an impact. I will always remember the moment when he told me about it and the deep connection that I felt to him and his wife.

When a group of donors all contribute to a powerful program to benefit others, it is easy to sit back and admire them, then one must jump in to help. When a patient faces a challenging diagnosis, who doesn't want to be at his/her side, fundraising to find a way to improve chances for a positive outcome? When an organization is an impressive mainstay in the community, why would one not want to find short-term and long-term resources to sustain it?

Motivation From Within Yourself

Every day and every night I found that I would review recent events and outcomes and develop strategies to go to the next level over the course of the day or week. While I drew strength from within and always believed in myself, I also relied on a few of these thoughts and quotes from others to help.

  • Vince Lombardi, coach, football player, NFL executive, said to the Green Bay Packers: It is time for all of us to stand and cheer the doer, the achiever–the one who recognizes the challenge and does something about it. It was easy for me to get behind a group of donors who came together to make a difference, or a physician who had dedicated his life to finding cures for pediatric cardiology problems–it was inspirational so many times over a week, a year, a decade.

  • Maya Angelou, a great American poet and civil rights activist inspired so many people, and one quote that I held on to is: My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive and to do so with passion, some compassion, some humor and style.

  • For many years I followed Lee Iacocca, Ford and Chrysler executive, who said: Apply yourself. Get all the education you can, but then, by God, do something. Don't just stand there, make it happen.

  • One quote that has been on my wall throughout the years is: You have to go out on the limb to get the fruit. While the author was unknown to me, I took this very seriously.

  • Finally, a huge motivator for me was a quote from Katie Westbrook, who was a much-loved teenager and patient who courageously fought cancer, but ultimately lost the fight. She gave me a framed photo with a quote: Never give up! Although I had my moments in times past, Katie was very inspirational to me over the years. Who can resist this type of motivation?

I believe so strongly in the development field and, when a development officer is really effective, it is difficult for me to see them feeling depressed in their work or perhaps considering a new field of endeavor. I remember one day in particular and one rather depressed colleague who was in this spot. I gave her a card that captured the core of my thinking and can be summarized in this way: We weren't put on this earth just to live a life or just to fit in. We were put on this earth to change the status quo and make a difference in other peoples' lives.

Do you have other ways that have helped to motivate you in the day-to-day fundraising? If so, I am sure everyone would appreciate it if you shared them.


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