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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Why We Do What We Do

It's a thankless job sometimes, isn't it.

You work long hours, for a typically low nonprofit salary, to raise money for your cause. You finish a major event, and the next day there's more to be done. Or you do everything right, yet the money doesn't come in. Most people who really care about their cause make many, sometimes huge, personal sacrifices for the sake of the organization.

Why?

Over the years we've spoken with many of our colleagues about what keeps them going. Here are a few ways to stay motivated to work in philanthropy:

1. Connect with the cause on a regular basis. I will always hire someone who cares about the mission of an organization and is trainable over a highly trained person who doesn't care. Because sometimes the greatest reward is seeing the mission happen, and if you don't care about that, you won't feel rewarded. I still get a huge kick out of meeting people like Stacy, who told me exactly why public radio was important to her and society at large with such conviction that I put her on the air during pledge drive. Or, overhearing a student who was so excited about class that she said, "I want to be a teacher so I can be just like my professor." Whatever the cause, there's a way to connect, so go do it.

2. Don't beat yourself up too badly if things don't go as planned. Relationships are unpredictable, which makes fundraising, at times, fickle. You may have done everything right but the donor doesn't commit. Your event may have unforeseen complications. You may have just picked the wrong time, the wrong donor, the wrong project. It happens to all of us, and if it's not a pattern, don't beat yourself or your colleagues up about it. Evaluate, correct if you can, and move on.

3. Pay close attention to team connection and cohesiveness. A trustee that I once worked for asked, when hiring a new staff member, "Will they fit in? Because we have to maintain our sense of collegiality above all else." Can you predict who will get along and who won't? Not usually, but you must monitor for cliques and turf wars and cut them off as soon as possible. The nonprofit sector is a very relationship based, so as much as you can minimize the burrs, the better.

4. Pay attention to cause and effect during the good times too! You raise money, then something gets built. Or a program is created or expanded. Or you can keep the doors open for another month! In most nonprofits, there is a pretty clear cause and effect between fundraising effectiveness and program service--it's important to demonstrate this when things are going well, not just when you want to blame someone for a cutback.

5. Do most things with enthusiasm. If you're not excited about stuffing that mailing, that's okay. You're not required. But try to do most everything else with enthusiasm. Your spirit will be contagious and then, in turn, other people's enthusiasm will rub off on you. (And if you're not feeling up to it, fake it.)

6. Show that you care. And I don't mean the obligatory flower arrangement for Administrative Assistant's day or slightly stale pastries in the break room for their birthday. Take time to find out what they really like and recognize them appropriately.

7. Let people celebrate! Nonprofit work can be frustrating, so celebrate every victory that you can. It doesn't necessarily need to be a huge party for every direct mail response that comes in, but at least acknowledge people's (and your own) work on a regular basis.

After finishing our most recent pledge drive at KAWC Colorado River Public Media in Yuma, Arizona, we received an email from the Vice President who oversees our department titled, "Your work is appreciated." That one email to the entire team (addressed to each of us by name) meant a great deal. Simple as that.

Last day at our last staff jobs, March 2007
(Jim did not wheel me out to the parking lot,
but it was close)
Jim Anderson and I both left benefited and salaried positions five years ago to devote ourselves full-time to GoalBusters. We have had many opportunities to return to more lucrative, stable positions, but have chosen not to, because we really love what we do. All our clients keep us motivated, but we wanted to extend a special thank you to the following for playing a pivotal role in the evolution of our practice:

 Thanks for being a part of the adventure.--Alice Ferris, Founding Partner

GoalBusters was founded in March 2001 when Alice was going stir crazy as a stay at home mom. Highlands Center for Natural History was our first client and patiently dealt with the growing pains of both the company and Matthew, who was 3 months old when the company was founded. Jim Anderson joined the firm as partner in May 2006 and reminds Alice on a regular basis that he's obviously not in this for the money since his former expense account was more than what he's making now. But Jim also gets a bonus program--for the record, he prefers potato based vodkas, not grain based. In case you want to contribute. (AF) 

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