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Keep Your Sense of Wonder in Your Fundraising Work

My first job in fundraising was as an in-house copywriter for a social-service organization that worked in Kolkata, India (then spelled Calcutta).

I thought I’d hit the career jackpot when I got the job. The pay was terrible, but it was my first “real” job, and it seemed downright princely to me. But more importantly, the job fed my need for adventure: They made it clear that I would travel to India so I could write about the work. I could hardly imagine a cooler assignment.

To show you just how enraptured I was, here’s something I wrote about Calcutta shortly after my first trip there:

One day, I saw a holy man in the garden. He crouched and poured a crystal stream of water over his head from a silver bowl. The water flashed in the sunlight like a mirror. It was a scene of heart-aching beauty that captured my imagination. To this day, that image is my mental icon of the city and people of Calcutta.

Fast forward two years. I was ready to move on. I’d been to India (it was amazing), and I’d written so much about Calcutta that I could type the word “Calcutta” in one fluid motion. At first, this typing ability (I was, and still am, a slow typist) seemed like a cool magic trick. But it came to symbolize for me how tired I had become of thinking, talking, and writing about Calcutta.

The wonder was gone.

What had been an adventure that filled me with joy and energy had devolved into a normal job, dominated by pain-in-the-butt ordinariness. I was young and impulsive; that feeling drove me away from the fundraising profession — temporarily, it turns out.

I’ve since learned that everyone loses the wonder of just about every situation. We voluntarily trade wonder for annoying, miraculous for boring. 

Sometimes, that loss of wonder spurs us to make changes we should make. Other times it drives us to make bad decisions. But either way, whatever change you make, no matter how amazing the new thing is, you are going to lose the wonder again. The grass is the same shade of green on both sides of most fences.

That’s why it’s important to have a way to recapture the wonder — to keep yourself off a futile merry-go-round of seeking elusive wonder. There are better ways to conduct your career and your life. 

That’s why I appreciated a recent article in Psychology Today, “Feeling Disconnected at Work? Reconnect With Wonder.

The article makes the important and easy-to-miss point that loss of wonder can cause a lot of stress and even burnout:

… when you’re feeling closed down, fatigued, hungry, and reactive. That’s a signal that your frontal cortex has been overtaxed, and you need to stop focusing.

To beat stress and keep your head clear, here are some things you can do, according to the article:

  • Take a “Wonder Walk.” Go outside. Walk. Without a destination. Pay attention to everything around you. All five senses. Note the details. Think about them. Just 10 minutes of this will do a lot to reclaim your wonder.
  • Pause-Gaze-Praise. You can do this anywhere: sitting at your desk, relaxing on a bench, even during your Wonder Walk. 
    • Take 10 breaths.
    • Look away from what you’re focusing on and let your gaze fall upon something ordinary.
    • Just look at it, don’t think about it.
    • Think of just a few words of praise about the object. I know it sounds goofy, but it can really re-orient your thinking.
  • Reflective intervention. This is good for the end of the workday. Take a quick break and write down three highlights from your day. They don’t have to be big deals like breakthroughs or amazing moments, but small things like a sensory detail, or something someone said.

These are just small, simple actions that can help you recapture the wonder, especially if you do them regularly. (If you want more, the article’s author has a book that’s well worth reading: Tracking Wonder: Reclaiming a Life of Meaning and Possibility in a World Obsessed with Productivity by Jeffrey Davis.) 

If you are fortunate enough to work in the nonprofit sector, you have a lot of wonder built into what you do every day. You are making the world a better place. Almost everyone else is working just as hard as you are, but all they’re accomplishing is making money (for someone else, usually) doing something relatively unimportant, like persuading strangers to choose one brand of shampoo over another.

I think that causes us to demand even more wonder. 

Because the fact that you’re transforming the world doesn’t keep the process from being a pain in the butt. You still don’t have the staff and resources you need. Things still go wrong. Your boss, your board, your client, or your consultants still don’t get it or get in the way. Great ideas sometimes don’t pan out.

That stuff can chase wonder out of your heart and your life.

Don’t let that happen. Grab the wonder with both hands!

Another way to cultivate your sense of wonder is to educate yourself to become the best fundraiser you can be. A great way to start: Schedule a free 25-minute call with one of our expert Fundraisingologists. They will give you great free advice, and help you identify which Coaching+ program might be right for you.

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    Jeff Brooks is a Fundraisingologist at Moceanic. He has more than 30 years of experience in fundraising, and has worked as a writer and creative director on behalf of top nonprofits around the world, including CARE, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Feeding America, and many others.

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