Passion: The Game-Changing Ingredient

Last weekend I attended a gala for a nonprofit organization. Yes, I know — events are the football fundraising critics kick around. Studies have shown that many net little or no money, and they can suck the life out of staff and volunteers.

But the reality is that there are innumerable events taking place every week, hosted by one nonprofit or another. A-Thons, dinners, concerts, garage sales and more are prevalent, and many nonprofits rely on them for operating revenue. So I try to attend a few every year and see what’s working (and sometimes, what’s not).

And last weekend, I was reminded about an important truth in fundraising as I watched the evening’s program unfurl and listened closely to the ask: You can’t fake passion

In this case, there was passion at every turn. A donor spoke of the absolute joy she has found in generously supporting the cause. A board member brought tears to many eyes as he shared a story. A worker who receives money from the nonprofit for his programs all but jumped up and down recounting what a difference it made.

And the founder could teach a Baptist how to do an altar call. I had to sit on my hands to keep from cashing in my retirement accounts and giving all the proceeds to the cause.

So why is passion so often missing from our fundraising? Why are direct-mail letters and e-appeals flat, personal visits perfunctory, and events boring? I’m sure there are many reasons — this isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation — but here are a few things I’ve observed.

We’re too careful
Stop! I am not suggesting sloppy fact-checking, blatant lies or even hyperbole in the name of improving results. But I do think we’ve gotten too good about saying things in a way that won’t offend anyone, and the result is we’re no longer communicating passion.

Rather than risk starting an argument, I won’t mention specific examples. But look at your organization’s messages. Have you inadvertently removed passion in the quest to please everyone?

We give up too easily
Passion is often a result of having a story that communicates the real problem or the amazing difference your solution allowed. But we all know that these stories can be hard to come by. Either we’re stuck in the office, relying on people who don’t understand the importance of these “heart” stories, or we settle for “good enough” instead of working harder to uncover “great.”

Sometimes it’s just a quote or a single fact that can take our fundraising appeal from perfunctory to passionate. But that one thing may take hours to unearth. What’s that investment in time worth to your mission’s success?

We really don’t care
Let’s be honest — the economic turmoil has left many nonprofits staffed too lean. Too few people are having to do too much. Finding time to really care often seems impossible.

I’m not going to lecture anyone; all I suggest is that you ask yourself if you really, truly care about the work you are doing. Are you passionate? If not, it will be hard for donors to catch any passion from you.

You may have read to this point hoping for the magic solution to passionless people. I don’t know any quick cures, but I hope others reading this column will give their ideas for reigniting passion.

I will make one suggestion, however — take a look at the poem you probably haven’t read since high school graduation, “If …” by Rudyard Kipling. I just reread it, and a few lines really stand out (with my minor paraphrase, for which I ask forgiveness).

“If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’ …

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it
And — which is more …”

… a passionate fundraiser you’ll become.

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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