Looking for Inspiration in All the Wrong Places

Years ago, doughnut chain Dunkin’ Donuts had a TV commercial featuring Fred the Baker (actor Michael Vale). Fred got up well before the crack of dawn, mumbling, “Time to make the doughnuts!” while looking like he’d rather be back in bed.

Do you sometimes feel like Fred the Baker, only you’re mumbling, “It’s time to raise the money …”? And it’s even harder for you, because there is no recipe for fundraising success. You’re constantly changing strategies because donors (including the government) keep changing the rules.

It’s no longer enough to have an interesting newsletter and a monthly mailing explaining your needs. Now we have to send e-mails, stay current on our social-media postings, text updates, host events and visit major donors — oh, and we’re still worrying about the newsletter and the monthly appeal.

Unfortunately, there isn’t an “inspiration switch” to flip when we’re having a hard time collecting enough interesting thoughts to string together for a fundraising activity.

What’s a fundraiser to do?

Revisit the past
Inspiration may be lurking in things we wrote down or said in the past that energized us. These may be old appeal letters, or notes and photos from a particularly good connection you made with a project or project recipient.

For years, I kept a photo in my office of a young woman in Bangladesh. Despite many obstacles, she was earning enough to survive by weaving reeds into sleeping mats that were sold in the market. In the photo I took of her, her face was alive with the biggest smile you can imagine. When I was pouting and mumbling about having to “make the doughnuts” one more time, just looking at her face re-energized me.

What from your past brings you inspiration? A great note from a donor? A photo of an animal your nonprofit helped rescue? A forest you help preserve? Pictures by children whom you are helping succeed in school? Even a direct-mail letter that really energized your donor file to respond? Whatever it is, revisit it — and rekindle your inspiration.

Check out the present
You can’t always get to a project location (trust me, I could hardly run to Bangladesh anytime I needed to be re-inspired), but maybe you can somewhat replicate that experience while sitting at your desk.

First, put away the budget reports and statistical reporting from your program sites. They are full of great information but might not inspire a fundraiser to greatness. Instead, call someone (or Skype, chat on Facebook, however you want to connect) who is working at the program level and ask what really has her excited right now. Push for details. What does the student like to eat for lunch? When the bear cub was reunited with its mother, what was the reunion like? How did the program person feel right then? What flowers are blooming in the prairie that is being restored?

Look, as well, at the websites of other nonprofits doing similar work to yours. What are they excited about? That just could jump-start your own inspiration.

Visualize the future
What is going to be different because of the money you raise from this project? Think specifically, not the generic “the world will be a better place” difference.

If possible, go for a walk or at least go breathe fresh air for a few minutes. Change your location. And then let the fantastic future you are helping make possible re-inspire you. For just a few minutes, forget about budgets and production calendars. Instead, focus on why you are doing the work you do.

It’s hard to be always “up,” so when you need inspiration, look to the past, present and future. Like a jolt of caffeine, sometimes that is all you need to dream up the next great fundraising idea — or maybe a new doughnut flavor.

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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