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The Missing Ingredient That Might Be the Reason You and Your Colleagues Hate Your Job


I ask people all the time what they struggle with in fundraising. Distressingly often they tell me their biggest problem is their fundraising jobs. They love making the world a better place, but the job… it’s just not rewarding.

A lot of people hate their jobs. But why is it so common in fundraising? After all, we are doing some of the coolest stuff on the planet! We’re saving the world every day.

Why are so many people in fundraising depressed on Monday, buoyant on Friday, and recovering all weekend?

Mostly because they lack one (or both) of these critical workplace things:

Recognition and appreciation.

Recognition is being rewarded based on performance. Decent pay and regular raises, bonuses, promotions, awards. It also includes informal things like verbal or written thank-yous from bosses or others. We all need recognition. We are all motivated by it. Workplaces that don’t do a good job at recognition lose their best employees far too quickly.

But recognition has some problems:

  • It’s conditional. That means it comes and goes. You earn it.
  • It’s based on things you’ve already done.
  • It’s a limited resource. Not everyone can get the salary or recognition that they want or deserve.
  • It depends on really with-it leaders and managers and well-run organizations. You know how rare those can be!

So recognition, as important as it is, doesn’t consistently deliver what people need.

Appreciation is a different thing. It is about each person’s inherent value, not just their accomplishments. It’s their worth as a fellow human.

Think of it this way: recognition is about what people do at work. Appreciation is about who they are. It’s not conditional. It’s not a limited resource. And anyone can do it.

Everyone needs both.

Guess which one is more commonly missing in workplaces.

Let me tell you about two different places I worked in the past:

  • At one place, they weren’t so great at recognition. Salaries were on the low side. They were oddly stingy about promotions. They routinely messed up the small stuff, like fringe benefits — making you just feel angry and crappy. But they were amazing at appreciation. The bosses were available, open, and friendly. They seemed to actually like you and want to hang out with you. They talked a lot about individual employees, pointing out their strengths and great personalities. The place felt like a family — sometimes a dysfunctional family — but it was a place of connection and belonging.
  • The other workplace was very good at recognizing people. Salaries were high. So were bonuses. If you did your job well, you could expect regular promotions and raises. When the company did well (which it usually did), the employees did well. But there was almost no appreciation. Everyone worked with their heads down. You could make friends at work, but not so much with people above you in the hierarchy. It felt like being part of a machine. A well-oiled one, but still just a machine.

I worked at one of those places for four times as long as the other.

And I’ll bet you know which one: The place that was good at appreciation. Even though they often missed the mark on recognition.

That’s not just me. It’s what we all need. Appreciation matters. A lot.

If you are a leader or a manager, here are some things you can do to make your workplace better and full of positive energy. (And if you’re not a leader or manager, find a way to show them this list!):

  • Listen. This is the big one. Open your ears, your mind, and your heart. Really pay attention to what people say. Listen between the words, and you’ll hear what they need. But really, one of the things they need most is to be listened to.
  • Say something nice. Tell people what it is you value about them. Do this all the time. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, put it on your calendar.
  • Spend some time. Yes, you’re busy. But hang out with people. You’ll be amazed at what happens when you just spend time with people.
  • Check in. Ask people how they’re doing — and really mean it. Find out what’s bothering them, what’s making them happy, what makes them tick.

Even if you aren’t a boss, you can do these things. Appreciation does its magic no matter who does it. And it can spread.

Please share your experience with recognition and appreciation at your nonprofit jobs by leaving your reply below. We’d love to learn from your experience.

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4 Comments. Leave new

  • I love my job and how I encourage others is every month I send through the Action for Happiness Calendar. Action for Happiness is a group started up in the UK which I follow and they send a daily action to my phone that is a reminder to do something happy. My job matches my passion and my aspirations. With an amazing team backing me everyday is a blessing.

  • Esther Landau
    August 21, 2020 1:41 am

    This is so timely.! I launched two things during shelter-in-place that approximates this approach: 1) I host a weekly Zoom happy hour for my team and a small group of other staff. When I send out the reminder I include a prompt like “be ready to share something you used to believe as a kid that you found out later wasn’t true (Santa doesn’t count )”. It’s completely optional and no RSVP is expected but it’s been really sweet. 2) Weekly floating Open Office Hour, designed to mimic office life when you are all in the same space, calling out the occasional question or popping your head in to share something funny your kid said. One team member will often have her baby in her lap, using one of the ridiculous SnapChat lenses so they both have beehive hairdos, etc. These have brought all of us closer and have helped us appreciate small but meaningful things about each other.

  • But appreciation has to come across as genuine. Honestly when my boss tries to do this it’s just cringe …

  • Anne MacKay
    March 3, 2023 2:48 am

    Loved this article, Jeff. I now work on a team with three colleagues and we are all devoted to catching each other doing good stuff, pitching in when someone needs help and boosting each (and laughing) when things get tough. While we appreciate positive comments from others in the organization, it means so much from colleagues who truly know what’s behind that result.
    We’ve each been in spots that didn’t feel great, so we are vigilant about protecting our vibe. It’s really a joy to be a part of this cooperative team.


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