Give More to Get More: What Fundraisers Know About Meaning & Work


Sure, there are harder jobs than nonprofit fundraising. International diplomacy, say. Coal mining. But asking people for money, and getting them to give it, still ranks as a Sisyphean task.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I read a March 2014 New York Times op-ed on why fundraising can be fun. The author, Arthur C. Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute, went so far as to describe it as “magic.”

Here’s why. Psychology researchers have found that spending money on others makes people happier, while spending money on yourself barely affects your happiness at all.

More importantly, Brooks found that when donors gave money to causes they cared about, they gained a sense of meaning. They weren’t just happy; they were part of a noble purpose. As meQuilibrium’s Chief Science Officer Dr. Andrew Shatté has shown, the more connected you are to something bigger to yourself, the more resilient and satisfied you become. In addition, generous behavior leads to a host of physical benefits, from reducing mortality to quelling anxiety. (Read more on connection and resilience and generosity.)

A fundraiser, Brooks pointed out, is the one who links the money to the meaning. He or she helps people find, as author and speaker Simon Sinek says, the all-important “why” behind their giving–the inner mission statement that informs a person’s best actions and connects him to the world. (Read more on finding your “why.”)

A fundraiser, then, gets a double dose of meaning. First, she is deeply connected to the mission of her organization. Her work matters. Second, she gets to invite others to join the party by sharing, as Brooks writes, the insight that by “ investing their own time, talent and treasure, every American can bring his or her core principles to life.” Fundraising may still be a taxing job, but right there is the fun.

Few of us are nonprofit fundraisers, but we can apply the lessons of the fundraiser to our toughest jobs.

Find the meaning. You can’t persuade anyone to give money or time or business to an organization or company unless you are clear on why it matters. Why it matters to you. Why it matters to the world.  Unless you know your purpose, you won’t even be able to convince yourself! These four questions can help you find your path to purpose.

Give of yourself. When you’re facing a tough job, look for ways to be generous and giving. Is there an opportunity to mentor a younger colleague? Are there supplies you can donate? Can you pay a heartfelt compliment? You’ll enjoy the mental and physical benefits of generosity and you’ll infuse your work with the kindness and care that feeds fun.

Tell your story. Fundraisers are storytellers. That’s how they garner donations; that’s how they create a community of people pulling for this or that organization. In your work, you need to craft and tell the stories, based on your purpose, that will build support, assemble a team, encourage creative thinking, rally new energy. Maybe you’re telling these stories to yourself as a team of one, or to a group of potential stakeholders, to employees looking to you for inspiration. When you believe what do matters, these stories aren’t hard to find. In fact, they become a downright pleasure to tell.