Sandra is a major gift officer for a local homeless shelter and she’s angry and defeated. Her boss is all over her because she needs to get her year-end reports in to management. For the last two weeks she has been working with IT to get her numbers right. Someone entered a bunch of information in the database the wrong way and now it’s screwed everything up. A number of gifts that were coming in from her donors didn’t come in and she has no idea why. This has left her behind on her goals. She is starting to question whether she should actually be doing this job. Where she once had a lot of confidence in her abilities, now she is shaken. All her boss seems to focus on is numbers, to the point that she wonders if anyone in the organization even cares about the mission anymore.
Steven is a VP of Development for a large relief and development organization. When he came on board he relished his role because the organization was changing peoples’ lives all over the world. Now, five years later, he’s struggling. His life is meetings. He goes from one meeting to the next. He has meetings about what to do in meetings. It seems like there are thousands of problems he has to make decisions on, week after week. He’s dealing with a number of performance issues with employees. The President is always away doing things that have nothing to do with her job and she hates fundraising. The board doesn’t seem to care. Steven feels no support, yet he knows he’s capable of helping this organization do great things. He can’t remember the last time he visited one of the countries his organization is working in.
Do you know a Sandra or Steven? Are you Sandra or Steven?
Everyday I encounter MGOs and development professionals who have lost their spirit for the work. They have either been beaten down by a bad manager, caught up in the minutia of administrative work, stuck in bureaucracy and hurtful political games or just somehow lost their passion. It seems that our industry is full of hurting people who are stuck.
But then I look at other development professionals who somehow seem to rise above it all. They have the same challenges, yet don’t allow themselves to lose their passion and drive. Why is this?
I believe it’s about two important things: They have an overall positive outlook on life, and they have a profound sense of gratitude.
I have found that when someone has these two qualities, they can make it through just about anything that life brings at them. Now, I’m sure there are many resources out there in the way of self-help books designed to develop a more positive attitude for those not born with this characteristic. A positive outlook can take you far in life, despite the hurdles you may face. But I’d like to focus today on the belief that there are ways that we can all train ourselves to become more grateful. And, over time, when despair strikes, as it most certainly will, we can tap into that reserve we now have and reacquaint ourselves with the right perspective.
So, here are some things you can do everyday to train yourself to live in gratitude:

  1. When you awaken each morning, say “thank you.” Yes, just physically do it.
  2. When you get to work each day, write down one thing for which you are grateful, in any aspect of your life, and put it into a file folder.
  3. Search for stories within your organization that embody your mission. Perhaps it’s a story of a changed life, or an animal that was saved and living in a good home, or a village that now has fresh drinking water. Put those stories in that file folder. That folder, by the way, can be real or virtual… name it My Gratitude File.
  4. Find your mission and vision statement and put it in that file.
  5. When you find a photo that gives you joy or makes you cry and is related to your mission, put it in that file.
  6. When you see a video that moves you…put it in that file.
  7. Write at least three handwritten thank you cards to your donors — especially when you are not in the mood, and you are loaded down with other work.
  8. In the middle of the afternoon, pause and say “thank you” again, either out loud or quietly to yourself.
  9. Before you drift off to sleep say, “thank you” one last time.

Then, when you get into those times of despair and anguish in your work and you feel like you’re losing your perspective, bring up that Gratitude File and open it up. Start reading those pages and looking at those pictures.
This will remind you of the reason you are there. This will help bring you back to what brought you to where you are in the first place. This will open your heart in gratitude.
If this can become a daily practice, you will slowly start to see a change. Things that may have bothered you before won’t anymore. Things that once seemed like a huge deal are nothing now. Why? Because now you have perspective. You now live in gratitude.