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On Motivation
Part II: The Donor

In "On Motivation Part I" we looked at what it is that motivates us to be effective development professionals. It is not our basic needs that motivate us in our work; it is our pursuit of self-actualization. Psychologist Abraham Maslow defines self-actualization as our desire for self-fulfillment, to become everything we are capable of becoming.

In that respect our donors are like us. In fact, when we consider people who can and do make major gifts that have a significant impact on our missions, we probably have in mind people who are more self-actualized than we are.

Why is that? Because typically, as income or wealth increases, people become less motivated by need and more motivated by intangible desires. They are motivated by the opportunity for growth, not by deficiency. As Maslow observed, "They attempt to grow to perfection and to develop more and more fully in their own style. For them motivation is just character growth, character expression, maturation, and development."

Who are these people?

Any time we gather a group together to help us identify major gift prospects, the chief criterion is wealth. That is a given; people cannot give what they do not have. However, we all know that wealth is not an indicator of generosity. Furthermore, many people can make truly generous commitments from their assets through planned gifts. These are people who may very well not exhibit any visible evidence of wealth.

We need to look for people among our pool of major and planned gift prospects who display characteristics of self-actualization. Maslow drew these conclusions about defining characteristics from depth research of mentally healthy subjects. Obviously, these characteristics of our major gift prospects can only be observed by being in relationship with them. Hopefully, some of those relationships are already established with our volunteers or us and we need to be keen listeners and observers. If we do not have those relationships, strategies can be created to develop them.

First of all, these people were loved as children. They grew up feeling secure, nurtured and encouraged to explore their potential. They learned to love others rather than needing to be loved. They talk fondly about their parents and vividly about their experiences of growing up. They accept themselves and their idiosyncratic natures regardless of shortcomings and without wishing to be something else or envying of someone else.

They learned to appreciate the world. They delight in simple pleasures, in natural beauty, in the experiences of daily living. They live in the present moment and enjoy the journey as well as the destination. They have healthy appetites for all aspects of life and take genuine enjoyment in satisfying their basic needs. I remember the remark by a consultant several years about some of our major donors, "Those people eat like horses!" It was true. They were not particularly overweight; they simply had a gusto for life including good food.

Self-actualizers are creative people, not necessarily expressed in the fine arts. They find creative solutions to problems; they find opportunity where others see only obstacles. They turn routine and mundane tasks into playful games. Work is embraced as pleasure rather than a duty or means to an end. However, they are not workaholics, i.e., they are not addicted to work.

They are in stable marriages and find their spouses as attractive and interesting today as they did 30 or 40 years ago. They have a special love for children — their own as well as children in general.

Self-actualized people are highly ethical. They are guided by principles of their own determination. They have high moral values and standards for themselves, yet they are forgiving of others’ shortcomings. They respect other people for whom they are as individuals regardless of power, position, political ideology, education or ethnicity.

Their circle of friends is small, but those relationships are deeply developed. They are private people who enjoy solitude and being with themselves.

These people are highly self-governed and self-directed. As Maslow found, "They have become strong enough to be independent of the good opinion of other people, or even of their affection. The honors, the status, the rewards, the popularity, the prestige, and the love...have become less important than self-development and inner growth."

They are deeply grateful for their good fortune and often express how blessed they are. They have a well developed spirituality, although they may not be members of a particular religious denomination.

Now, think about some of the people you know who are like this. We sometimes think of them as characters because they are idiosyncratic. They feel free to express themselves. They are energetic and positive. They make things happen rather than waiting for things to happen. Yet, they are sensitive to other people. They feel deeply about issues that are important to them personally and also about issues of importance to all of humankind.

How are we to understand these people?

Keep in mind that the basic needs of these people have already been satisfied, i.e., their physiologic needs as well as their needs for safety, love and esteem. Money is not the means to satisfy their lower needs or an end in itself; they have come to realize that it can be the means to achieve their higher needs. They may certainly enjoy the luxuries, experiences and access that money can buy, but they are not obsessed by the need to possess or to flaunt their wealth.

Humans are wanting animals. We are not satisfied for very long. However, once our basic needs are met, it is more difficult to discern what our other or higher needs are. Self-actualized people constantly seek for that which will fulfill them, meaning that which will enable them to achieve their potential. As Maslow writes, "To know what one really wants is a considerable psychological achievement."

Self-actualizing people place a greater value on the satisfaction of their higher needs. They will make tremendous sacrifices to gratify those needs even to the point of depriving their lower needs. They can be patient to achieve what they want, delay gratification, and remain dedicated to longterm objectives.

They become strongly focused on issues or problems outside of themselves. They devote their energies to a mission they have taken on with a passion and dedication that is inspirational. They may feel that it is their civic duty and not necessarily a task they would choose for themselves. I recall a man who from his bed in the hospital shortly after cardiac bypass surgery was on the telephone coordinating construction of a Habitat for Humanity project. It was amazing to me to see him so unconcerned about his own discomfort and recovery.

Like this man, Maslow found that "self-actualizing people have a deep feeling of identification, sympathy, and affection for human beings in general. They feel kinship and connection, as if all people were members of a single family."

How can we motivate these people to support our missions?

Following Maslow’s theory of motivation, it’s important that we think of these people as whole individuals instead of separate parts. We need to consider their entire lives: from childhood to the present, their work and personal endeavors, the relationship with their families and the pursuit of their personal interests, their values and achievements, their dreams and fears.

Their drives and desires are needs of the whole person. These drives are overlapping, not mutually exclusive. Furthermore, they are complex and change over time. That’s why establishing ongoing relationships is so important to our success. It’s not enough to operate on the basis of a snapshot of a particular individual, we must continually strive to know the person on an intimate level. That takes time and is founded on trust.

These people are actively engaged with the world. Even if they are not physically active any longer, they remain intellectually and emotionally involved. We need to capitalize on their natural curiosity and their drive to understand the world by seeking their advice in a genuine way and gathering their ideas about how to address the problems and challenges our organizations face. They don’t want pat answers or facile solutions to serious issues. They need to know that we want their best thinking; we need their creativity. We want the best of them.

Self-actualized people are mission-driven. They thrive on being a part of something significant. They want to have an impact, not in a self-centered way but in the context of service to humankind. They want to know what our organizations are all about and what it is we are trying to achieve. Are we convicted of our purpose and demonstrably making sacrifices? Or are we comfortable or self-serving? Their time is their most precious resource and they want to use it where it can make a difference — not a modest improvement but a quantum leap.

These people are not threatened by the unknown or ambiguity. We do not have to have all the answers or the course fully marked out for them. They want to analyze information, explore options, and weigh consequences. We have to be open to new perspectives and radical alternatives that may upset our equilibrium and our preconceived notions. They define the world in terms of abundance and not deficiency. That attitude reveals itself in a capacity for experimentation and risk, for seizing opportunity, and for creating something where nothing now exists.

As Maslow wrote, self-actualizers "are ordinarily concerned with basic issues and external questions of the type that we have learned to call philosophical or ethical. Such people live customarily in the widest possible frame of reference. They seem never to get so close to the trees that they fail to see the forest. They work within a framework of values that are broad and not petty, universal and not local, and in terms of a century rather than the moment."

Self-actualizers demand the best of us. They hold us to high ideals. They challenge us and the status quo. They require us to be honest and open.

When we think of our major donor prospects in this way, we should be excited about the possibilities that lay before us (and them) and about the richness of the experience. We will be better for it. It will take us further down the road on our own journey toward self-actualization. Enjoy, the best is yet to come if we grasp the opportunity!

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.

Michael R. Maude, ACFRE, FAHP
Partners In Philanthropy

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