Three ways to BOOST your fundraising mojo

New research into Passion vs Purpose

In charities, we have the great fortune to work for organisations where it should not be hard to find a higher purpose to give meaning to what we do. And yet, even in charities, it can be hard to feel a strong every-day connection to the difference we are making. This can be especially true in charities which are either large or where, for distance, safeguarding or resource reasons it is not possible to ever meet the people our charity helps.

Seeing such a dip in apparent energy and purpose, frustrated leaders within charities often respond by wishing that their people were more ‘passionate’. They sometimes even tell us to ‘Be Passionate’. When I have received this advice at department / team away days or from conference platforms, I’ve struggled with how to apply it. Has it ever helped you?

Most people I know would like more enthusiasm and energy at work, but the challenge is that, as the Heath Brothers assert in The Power of Moments ‘our daily obligations – the emails, the meetings, the to-do lists – can numb us to the meaning of our work.’

Which has a bigger impact on results, passion or purpose?

They report the work of Morten Hansen, the University of California, Berkeley professor who surveyed 5000 employees and managers to understand the traits of the most successful performers. In particular, he was interested in the differences between purpose and passion.

Hansen defines passion as the ‘feeling of excitement or enthusiasm you have about your work’. He defined purpose as ‘the sense that you are contributing to others, that your work has a broader meaning.’

He gave 5000 people questionnaires to assess how much or little passion and purpose they felt. For example, he found that 17% of people completely agreed with the statement ‘what I do at work makes a strong contribution to society, beyond making money.’

It will probably come as no surprise that people who self-reported as low on both passion and purpose, were ranked near the bottom for performance by their managers (in the 10th percentile). If you are both unenthusiastic about your job and feel it has little meaning, you’re unlikely to go all out to excel. And the opposite was also true. People who were high on both passion and purpose were ranked most highly for performance (in the 80% percentile). So far so obvious.

But what if people were strong on just one of the two traits? He looked at how well the passionate people or purposeful (connected to bigger meaning) people performed. Who do you think would perform better?

Firstly, the passionate. I think most of us would presume these enthusiastic people would perform well. In fact Hansen discovered that those passionate people who expressed high levels of excitement about their jobs, were still poor performers if they lacked a sense of purpose (they languished down in the 20th percentile of performance).

And what about those who felt a connection to a bigger purpose / contribution, even if they did not self-report as passionate? They performed far better!

HIGH PASSION 80th Percentile 20th Percentile
LOW PASSION 64th Percentile 10th Percentile


For the Heath Brothers, the outcome is clear. Purpose, feeling a connection to the difference you are making, trumps passion in its power to help your performance. Their view is that a sense of purpose / meaning connects people together in pursuing the common goal, whereas different people’s passions often vary, which can harm rather than help the collective endeavour.

So next time you are asked for advice about how to succeed in fundraising, this research suggests that the best thing to do is offer practical ways we can connect to our Purpose (and stand out from the crowd by prioritising this over Passion)!

According to Amy Wrzesniewski, a Yale professor who studies how people make their work meaningful, one of the myths is that you need to find your calling, like it’s some magical treasure waiting to be uncovered. Instead she has found that purpose is not discovered, its cultivated.

How do you cultivate it? Or if you are a leader, how do you make it easier for your team to cultivate it?

Make it personal…

You deliberately create more opportunities to connect to the difference you are making to people’s lives in a personal way. For example:

  • One piece of research found that when radiologists were shown photos of the patients whose X-rays they were scanning, the accuracy with which they performed scans increased, and they also became more productive, completing more scans.
  • Similarly, when nurses who were assembling surgical kits met a caregiver who would end up using the kits, they worked 64% longer than a control group and they made 15% fewer errors. There was a similar finding in a study of lifeguards.
  • And in The Small Big, the authors report a study into a group of fundraisers whose job was to make calls to request donations towards a hardship fund for students in economic difficulties. Fundraisers who spent 10 minutes each morning reading real accounts of students who had benefited from the fund, raised more than twice as much money ($3,130 compared to $1,288) compared to fundraisers who did not!

How could you make use of this for increased success in fundraising?

  1. Create a culture of Finding and Sharing Stories in your team / in your charity. Many of the participants who have attended my Major Gifts Mastery Programmes have set up a regular slot on the agenda of team meetings where anyone can share a story they have heard that week that brings to life the work of the charity.
  2. One tactic I describe in The Fundraiser Who Wanted More is to create your own story bank, a notebook for capturing stories. Sarah, a participant on my Mastery Programme yesterday, brought along her story notebook and described how helpful it has been to help connect herself and her donors to the charity’s purpose.
  3. Watch the powerful TED talk by Simon Synek Start With Why, which gives inspiring examples of people whose success has derived from regularly tuning into their purpose. Several of my clients have found this presentation really helps their teams to better understand why and how to harness their purpose.