Picture of a woman who's bored at work motivationOver the past several weeks I’ve spoken to numerous major gift fundraising professionals who are either depressed, burned out, in a rut, or have lost motivation for the work they are doing.
It’s usually around this time of year that it happens most, and especially when donors don’t seem to want to respond to you. It creates emotional upheaval, and it triggers feelings of inadequacy.
When I hear from people in this situation, my first reaction is to say that this is not at all uncommon in major gift fundraisers (or in any profession for that matter), and it’s okay to feel this way at times. In fact, if you didn’t go through some ebbs and flows throughout your year and your career, I’d be concerned.
A problem in our society, though, is that we don’t accept being depressed or burned out or allowing others to be in a rut. It’s always go, go, go. But that’s not really sustainable. And if we don’t allow this in others, we certainly won’t allow it in ourselves; so we either ignore this lack of motivation or hide it.
Being a major gift fundraiser is an emotionally taxing profession. It has tremendous highs and lows. The key that I’ve found in my own life is to be aware of where and who I am. I’ve learned over the years what my emotional cycles are. Mornings are better for me for being creative. Mid-afternoon, I’m basically worthless. Late afternoon and early evenings I have a jolt of energy.
I use that rhythm to help guide my work, and it allows me to be kind to myself and go with my natural flow without being hard on myself.
I also realize that some days will not be as productive as others. Some weeks won’t be, either. But I have to check in with myself and figure out where I am. Why don’t I feel motivated today? What is distracting me? Why don’t I feel like doing anything productive?
Some of the major gift officers I’ve spoken with said that they become unmotivated or depressed when either they have so much work to do they become paralyzed, or their work becomes so mundane and rote that they lose interest and they feel depressed.
There is also a great feeling of rejection by major gift officers.
A couple of MGOs I talked to said that they may go weeks without being able to connect with a donor, and that takes a huge toll on them emotionally. One MGO said to me, “When I can’t connect to donors, I feel like I’m a total loser because 1) they must not like me and 2) I must not be doing my job right. I go into this deep despair because I’m feeling totally disconnected from donors and I’m feeling totally inadequate. And I’ve been doing this for 15 years!”
I know exactly how these major gift officers feel. One of my roles at Veritus is to bring in new clients. There are days and weeks where no one returns my calls or answers my emails. There are some months that do not go well. I get down on myself, and I feel like I’m letting my colleagues down. It’s hard.
So what I do – and the advice I give to any major gift fundraiser that asks me – is this:

  • Allow myself yourself to feel this way.
  • Think about why I’m feeling down, and
  • Talk honestly with myself about whether I’m doing the daily work I need to, and whether I can or cannot control the outcome based on my actions. In other words, I say to myself, “Jeff are you working your plan correctly?”

If I’m doing the right things, then that is all I can do, and I just have to accept that it’s okay that things are not happening the way I want them to. If I’m honest and feel perhaps there is more I can do, I force myself to work the plan correctly and know intellectually that if I follow through, good things will happen eventually.
I believe this approach to your work will help you, too. You will go through times when you will feel disconnected from your work. You may feel depressed or that there might be something wrong with you because donors are not responding to you.
Check in with yourself. Allow yourself to feel it. Then be honest and make sure you are working through your plan. You will find that even if you don’t feel like working your plan, that over time, you begin to break through. It happens to me all the time. That doesn’t diminish your current feelings, but it gives you the motivation and a strategy to move forward.
That is the key to breaking through.
P.S. – Another thing you should check, when donors aren’t responding to you, is that you’ve qualified them properly. Click here to learn how