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On Motivation
Part I: The Self

Think back to when you began your present job. Were you new to the organization? Or were you promoted from within? Perhaps this is your first job in development

What were your feelings: apprehension, excitement, pride? Chances are that when you started your job you were highly motivated to set and achieve challenging goals for yourself, that you manifested high energy, that you wanted to make a real difference.

How do you feel about your job today? Does your job hold as much promise as it once did? If not, have you examined why?

The key may be motivation. Why motivation? Public servant John Gardner wrote in On Leadership that "no human venture succeeds without strongly motivated men and women..... I look for high motivation more than any attribute other than judgment."

In order to motivate donors to invest significantly in our organizational missions, we must be motivational — meaning that we must be motivated ourselves and excited about our organizations. Where does this motivation come from? There are two types: external and internal.

In our contemporary workplaces employees have become accustomed to external motivations such as bonuses, extra days off, contest prizes, etc. Even in the nonprofit sector these external motivators are becoming more prevalent. The importance of competitive salaries and genuine expressions of appreciation cannot be denied. However, these tangible motivators have only temporary effects; they are quick fixes. In fact, Dean Spitzer in Supermotivation reports that "nonmonetary rewards such as involvement, freedom, responsibility, achievement, and meaning are valued most highly." They complement and nourish our internal motives.

Internal motivation is self-motivation. It resides in all of us, although it may be dormant. It is lasting; it is steadfast; it is powerful. It is real motivation and, in combination with external motivators, the foundation for our success within our institutions. So what drives us?

Needs and desires

Psychologist Abraham Maslow identified a hierarchy of human needs. Our most basic needs include food, shelter and security, for example. Only when these basic needs are met do we become concerned with self-actualization — pursuing a higher order of goals. For most of us, our basic needs are satisfied unless we are confronted with a crisis like losing our job. The question is whether we pursue self-actualization.

What really motivates us are not the things we need. As Maslow states, "I am motivated when I feel desire or want or yearning or wish or lack." Spitzer describes eight major desires which are highly motivational: activity, ownership, power, affiliation, competence, achievement, recognition and meaning. And if thwarted, they can leave us feeling frustrated and angry. Those feelings lead to dissatisfaction, disinterest and eventually other employment.

We need to honestly examine which of these motivators are especially important to us. It can be difficult to ascertain, since we often want to place the blame for our frustrations or direct our anger toward someone or something else. Or we may not want to acknowledge motivations that seem too self-promotional or venal. What are our hearts’ desires?

Desire for activity: Do you need to be continually stimulated, to be physically and mentally active, to be involved in doing something most of the time? Is variety important to you? Do you become restless frequently and abhor meetings?

Desire for ownership: Obviously, ownership of a nonprofit is not possible; however, psychological ownership is important. Do you like to see your ideas come to fruition? Do you argue doggedly for them? Is it essential to you that you have input into decisions? Are you possessive of projects you are involved in?

Desire for power: Do you have a high need for control or for influencing others? Do you crave autonomy and authority? Is your title extremely important to you? Do you resent limitations and restrictions?

Desire for affiliation: Do you look for opportunities to be with other people? Do you look forward to the social interaction of meetings and informal gatherings? Is the favorite part of your job visiting with donors? Are significant emotional attachments particularly satisfying? Is it important to you to be associated with a successful organization and prominent people?

Desire for competence: Do you love to learn, to figure out how to make things work and what makes people tick? Do you find deep satisfaction in mastering new skills? Do you enjoy attending conferences and other educational forums?

Desire for achievement: Do you take great pride in your work? Do you thrive on challenge? Do you especially like tackling difficult tasks or meeting urgent deadlines? Are clear goals and objectives critical to you?

Desire for recognition: Do you display certificates and plaques and keep notes of appreciation? Do you relish moments of public praise for a job well done or even just a pat on the back? Do you seek out opportunities to be in front of people?

Desire for meaning: Do you feel driven to make a difference in people’s lives? Do you take the organization’s mission to heart? Do you become wholly committed to something you believe in? Do you care deeply about people and ideals?

Usually, we are driven by more than one of these internal motivators. It is crucial to identify which of these most apply to you, because high performance is a coupling of ability and motivation according to Spitzer.

Once you have identified your motivators, can you construct your work to capitalize on them? If you are motivated primarily by recognition as an example, perhaps you can arrange opportunities to make presentations to civic groups about your organization. It may be possible to position yourself as public spokesperson for the organization in media interviews. What about including a personal message in your annual report extolling the achievements of the development office (and by inference you)? Ask your supervisor for regular feedback. You could consider a survey of your board of directors including an evaluation of your performance and relationship with directors. You might consider volunteering to manage internal projects like the United Way campaign.

Whatever your desires you can devise creative means to satisfy these internal drives that will enhance your performance, increase your satisfaction and activate positive energy. Remember, Maslow’s term is "self-actualized." You cannot depend or wait on others.

Overcoming external obstacles

Even in the best of organizations there are practices and cultural forces which act against our self-motivation. In some instances they are significant obstacles. Think for a moment about those that most frustrate you and relate them to your internal motivators. Determine how you might be able to overcome or neutralize each of them. Some of the most common include the following described by Spitzer.

Politics: Do unwritten rules govern your organization? Is real decision-making made before or after meetings? Do some people get ahead regardless of performance?

One way to overcome this obstacle is by bringing information, discussion and decision-making into the open and by confronting those who continue to operate inappropriately behind closed doors.

Unclear expectations: Organizations frequently send conflicting messages about goals and priorities. It is simply not possible for everything to be a priority. Unclear expectations are also a way for the organization to avoid accountability.

Anytime you are unclear about what is expected of you, discuss the issues with your supervisor and obtain agreement on which objectives and tasks are most important. Delineate those with deadlines and other measurable criteria. Report back to your supervisor on a regular basis to reconfirm your priorities.

Unproductive meetings: P.B. Crosby in Quality Without Tears reports that excessive and unproductive meetings are the single major cause for driving talented employees out of organizations.

If you can influence meetings, make sure that they start and end on time. Provide or suggest agenda items. Take it upon yourself to ask others for their ideas and opinions on issues. Tactfully try to bring closure to discussion that is becoming tiresome or fruitless. Offer to lead a task force to make recommendations on complex or contentious issues. Avoid meetings that you are not required or expected to attend.

Overcontrol: In spite of decades of management research and training, many managers continue to overcontrol employees. Often a great deal of responsibility is given to employees without commensurate authority. Managers may require approval of all decisions, no matter how minor. They may insist on frequent, detailed reports of activity.

Studies have shown that lack of control is a major cause of stress and carries destructive consequences. This may be the most difficult of all obstacles to overcome. It is highly unlikely that you can change the other’s personality and behavior, but you can develop a plan of action. Be sure to keep this kind of supervisor updated with quick oral reports or e-mail messages. Anticipate concerns and questions, and offer information and recommendations before you are asked. Ask for advice about insignificant items. You also can try to engender trust by developing a personal relationship that extends beyond the workplace.

Word of advice

If your efforts to improve your work environment do not achieve positive results in a reasonable amount of time, find somewhere else to work. No job is worth the level of frustration caused by immovable obstacles.

Noted psychologist Carl Rogers wrote that "it rests within himself to choose; that the only question which matters is, ‘Am I living in a way which is deeply satisfying to me, and which truly expresses me?’ This I think is perhaps the most important question for the creative individual." Pose this question to yourself on a regular basis.

Personal growth is vital if we are to be development professionals who effectively serve our organizations. Growth cannot occur when our internal motivators are continually thwarted. And growth characterizes self-actualization. Maslow wrote, "Self-actualizing people are, without one single exception, involved in a cause outside their own skin, in something outside of themselves. They are devoted, working at something, something which is very precious to them — some calling or vocation in the old sense, the priestly sense."

That calling or vocation is what draws us into the development profession. When your internal motivations are reinforced by external motivators, you can achieve wondrous heights within yourself and for your organization.

Suggested readings:

Maslow, A., The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, Viking Press, New York, 1971.

Maslow, A., Motivation and Personality, Harper, New York, 1954.

Maslow, A., Toward a Psychology of Being, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 1968.

Rogers, C., On Becoming a Person, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1961.

Spitzer D., Supermotivation, AMACOM, New York, 1995.

Tjosvold, D. and Tjosvold, M., Psychology for Leaders, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1995.

Michael R. Maude, ACFRE, FAHP
Partners In Philanthropy

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