Is your work mundane?Four days a week at 5am I swim laps for exercise. I’ve been doing this for over two years. To be honest, it’s incredibly boring. I swim 60 laps of 50 meters. You’re basically all alone for an hour going back and forth, back and forth. While I know it’s great exercise and I feel good after the workout, it’s hard to be excited about it.
I’ve become friends with a guy that swims in the next lane. We’re always talking about how to mix up our swim workouts, so we can keep motivated to get up every morning. Otherwise we’d go crazy. We’ve developed little techniques to “change it up” and create competitive games so we’re not doing the same thing over and over and over.
Going back and forth during my swim workout this morning I had time to think of you. As a major gift fundraiser there are times that your job becomes rote and mundane. You have this strategic plan for your donors, you’re working the plan… and at times it feels you’re just going through the motions, with very little payoff.
Quite honestly, that is reality. Not every day can be a great adventure. Not every week do you have donors sending in new gifts. Not every month do you have a donor who decides to make a transformational gift to your organization, after you’ve worked hard for a couple of years with them.
Most of the time, major gifts work is about slogging it out, working the plan and doing the everyday tasks that you hope will help a donor connect with your mission by giving a gift.
If you are honest, there are sometimes you just don’t feel exceptionally motivated to connect with donors.
Just like my boring swim workouts, sometimes you need to change it up to keep the fire lit. Otherwise you will find yourself unmotivated to do the work you need to do every day to connect your donor’s passions and interests with everything your organization does to change the world.
Here are some ideas to keep your spark going during the times you don’t feel motivated:

  1. “Get to know your donor day” Once a quarter carve out one day (free from distractions) when you focus on three to four of your “A” level donors and do a bunch of research on them. Find out everything you can about them online. Talk to people in the organization about what they know about the donor. Track the connections they have to other donors, board members and other leaders in the organization. Put all of this on a whiteboard. If they are in a certain business, then research what that business does and what they do in their position. Then put all that information into your database. This allows you some solid time to think about just a few of your donors and to help unlock thoughts and strategies to help you better connect with them.
  2. Work in the program. It’s good to stay connected to the mission of your organization. Once per month, volunteer to work on the program side of what you do. Not only will it help keep your flame lit for your mission, it will help you develop empathy for those who carry out the mission of your organization first-hand. The best major gift officers I’ve known are almost as articulate about the mission as the program folks. This is the best way for you to understand how you do what you do. And it changes up your daily routine.
  3. Create a “Thank-a-thon.” Three to four times a year, set aside one entire day to thank your caseload donors, using different communication tactics that your donors like. Think of many different ways to reach out and thank donors for all they do. Call donors, write personal notes, send emails, take a donor out to lunch or a ball game, send a text message. Take the whole day to do this, and devote it to thanking only. You will find your spirit energized with this exercise.
  4. “Difficult Donors Brainstorm Day” Once or twice a year take a half a day and invite your colleagues to help you brainstorm new strategies for connecting with some of your difficult donors. You have these situations where sometimes you’re banging your head against the wall trying to figure out how to get through to them. Invite folks from your organization who work in other areas. Finance, program, HR, etc. Not only will you get some good ideas that you probably never thought of; you will be breaking down barriers within your own organization.
  5. Take off. Yep, that’s right. Sometimes we need to just take a day off and get out of our heads and do something fun. My business partner Richard Perry is actually really good at this. When he ran a big agency that I was a part of, there would be days he’d come in to my office around noon and say, “Jeff, let’s get out of here and have a long lunch and then go out and do something fun.” Those were awesome, because it was good to do something different. Every once in a while you need it. You work hard, and it helps re-energize you.

These are some ideas to change it up a bit and do something different that keeps you motivated. Major gift work can at times be isolating, lonely and mundane. Perhaps bringing some of these ideas into your work will keep it interesting and fun.