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Keeping perspective: rediscover the joy in the work. (Fundraising).

Whether their organizations' fundraising results in the past year have been the strongest ever or disappointing, fundraisers may find themselves enervated after a tumultuous, emotional year for the nonprofit sector.

The September 11 tragedies, unpredictable economic times and uncertainty about how donors will respond, heightened demand for nonprofits' services. And, the knowledge that nonprofits are increasingly in the spotlight may have even the most successful and dedicated fundraisers feeling drained and overburdened.

To recharge our batteries, rediscover the joy in our work, and renew our commitment to our organizations and our profession, this is a good time to step back from the daily tasks and remember why we do what we do. We need to stop periodically to consider what makes the work meaningful and rewarding and why it is important to stay energized about our own philanthropic values, our causes, and our roles in building and strengthening philanthropy.

Stephen Covey calls this process of self-reflection "sharpening the saw," and often the times when you feel least able to pause for such perspective are the very times when you need it most.

In the midst of the daily challenges, it can be difficult to remain focused on what drew us to the nonprofit sector in the first place. Looking back to see where we came from can be a good source of professional and personal rejuvenation.

One reflective path is to write your "philanthropic autobiography," a tool developed by our colleague, Bob Payton. Document for yourself your involvement with philanthropy and what motivates you to work on behalf of others. Think about the philanthropic role models who have influenced you, and what philanthropy means to you. Try to remember your earliest experience with philanthropy and volunteering, the ways you or your family or friends have benefited from others' generosity, and what led you to work in the nonprofit sector.

While there are lots of reasons that people choose to be fundraisers, for many it is the cause itself that motivates them. Fundraisers sound like missionaries. They have clear identification with the cause for which they raise money, and they try to convert others to the cause. When asked what they do or how they got into their profession, most fundraisers will tell you a story about a personal experience, something that happened to them or someone they know, a version of the philanthropic autobiography. Each story reveals dedication to a cause and belief in the value of what he or she does.

For many fundraising executives, the secret to staying motivated when the going gets tough seems to be operating out of these deep commitments which provide motivation in and of themselves. Based on her work for Common Fire: Leading Lives of Commitment in a Complex World (by Cheryl and Jim Keen, Larry Daloz, and Sharon Parks (Beacon Press, 1996), Cheryl Keen, professor and director of the Center for Community Learning and the Bonner Scholars Program at Antioch College, determined that the key step in each adult's personal service development was a transformative experience that changed the notion of an external "they" into a new sense of "we." This helped to develop within each person a stronger desire to contribute to the lives of others, and proved to be a lasting source of energy and dedication.

There is also an extrinsic reward from our work and from seeing needs in the community being met as a result of our efforts. Fundraising creates the structures that make philanthropy possible, and in turn, philanthropy changes lives. Its long, rich tradition helps make our democracy work and binds together civil society.

As fundraisers, our own transformative experiences--those moments that forever changed our perspectives and mobilized us in support of a cause or an organization--can serve as touchstones to which we can return aga in and again to reinvigorate us and help us recommit to ourselves and our mission.

Our work at the most basic level aims to reduce human suffering, advocate for equality and justice, and enhance human potential. It builds community, and within those communities promotes human fulfillment by allowing us to be part of a greater good. Philanthropy helps to maintain the dynamic health of our society by supporting experimentation and stimulating change while fostering pluralism. Fundraisers help make these essential elements of a civil society possible.

It can be difficult to see that bigger picture and to remain energized and committed when your inner resources seem tapped out and you have to work harder to raise money. Organizations may blame the fundraising staff if giving slackens, and fundraisers may feel unfairly pressured to produce results and come up with quick solutions to funding problems. It is important to remember that in most cases fundraisers and organizations did not bring the current economic challenges upon themselves, and should not feel that they are in an isolated situation.

Rather than penalizing ourselves, we should instead take this opportunity to focus our constituents on the mission of our organization. It is the external need that our organization meets (not the prowess of the fundraisers) that enables fundraising. Professional staff and volunteers need to evaluate organizational mission in relation to current needs. How can we reposition our organization and adjust our own attitudes? Rough spots provide chances to reassess and fine tune the mission of the organization and the way it is carried out, and that fresh refocusing in turn can help to re-energize our professional commitments.

It is important that we remind ourselves of long-term philanthropic progress and not abandon the principles that serve us well in all giving climates. Staying committed to mission and case, volunteer involvement, and major and planned gifts benefits philanthropy in both the short-term and the long-term. As fundraisers, we know what works. We know that the key to successful and abiding philanthropy is establishing and maintaining meaningful donor relationships. Pushing the donor too hard may achieve short-term gains, but also can cause damage to long-term donor relationships. Keeping donors involved throughout an economic downturn is crucial to maintaining philanthropic health for when donors are again ready to give more freely and pick up their favorite projects.

The rate of growth in giving often slows during recessions, according to research conducted by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University for the AAIFRC Trust for Philanthropy's Giving USA. Nevertheless, philanthropic giving continues even during uncertain economic times, and we should rededicate ourselves to our best efforts. Those efforts don't go unrecognized.

Donors give credit to fundraisers for helping them see the potential in projects and programs that need funding. We help donors explore options, match interests, and actualize the connections that can be made between people and organizations. Fundraisers are teachers who help donors see what is possible, and dedicated professionals who make important work possible by building sound infrastructures for involving volunteers, donors and others.

We should be proud of the job that we do. We know the ethical values of our profession and are dedicated to protecting donor interest and holding up high standards for the nonprofit sector. We possess the technical tools to do our job well, and we need to step back and gear up to use our knowledge, skills and principles to help carry us through.

Whatever the circumstances, however, we must be careful not to live off the hubris of our own accomplishments and conflate self image with fundraising success. If we inflate ourselves when we achieve or surpass fundraising goals in good times, we will surely deflate ourselves in more challenging periods. Instead of relying on our successes to build confidence, our satisfaction should lie in knowing we are doing the best job possible under unpredictable circumstances.

Fundraisers have always maintained strong and complex networks of professional contacts and support. Discussing the challenges we're facing and sharing ideas about how to deal with them will strengthen these ties in our professional community and help us to find encouragement in shared experiences. Staying connected to other fundraisers reaffirms our common professional values of honesty, integrity and promise-keeping, and helps us to keep our perspective by putting what we do in a larger context.

Organizations with strong frameworks will continue to be successful, and so will fundraisers who can keep their internal motivational systems well fueled. Tapping into what motivates you and drawing on inner resources requires some time to reflect and re-energize and necessitates a step back to ask yourself "What does my work mean to me? How do I fit my work into a larger context?"

As professional fundraisers, we have the skills and training to prevail in uncertain times. We need to look deep within ourselves and remember why we do what we do. Getting back to the basics will help us stay true to our values and draw energy from the knowledge that the work we do is changing the world.

Eugene R. Tempel is executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University in Indianapolis, Ind.
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Author:Tempel, Eugene R.
Publication:The Non-profit Times
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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