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Stress: the threat to fundraising efficacy that you can’t ignore

on Aug 25, 2013

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Rarely is the job of one fundraiser ever identical to that of another. That’s what I love about our sector. We may have the same objective – raising money for great causes – but all differ slightly in our approach.

Fundraising has a beautiful space between strategy and execution that we can each fill with a little piece of ourselves. Something that is unique to you, and that no other fundraiser can do quite like you, nor should they. For any fundraiser that takes pride in their work and how they do it, that space is a canvas you fill with your conversational style, the way you dress, how you say hello and how you say goodbye. It’s the way you answer the phone and the way you finish an email. This space is never written into a strategy, and is rarely acknowledged in execution because it’s weaved through everything we do.

What this is, is just being yourself and letting it show through in your work. There is a always a balance to strive for – being yourself doesn’t mean revealing every personal detail with co-workers and donors. My definition of “being myself” in the workplace is to allow others to see attributes of my personality, like earnestness, curiosity and enthusiasm.

Doing this, in addition to traditional professional development, should set you on the path to being a great fundraiser. However, there is one significant underlying threat to all this progress that does not get the attention it deserves: stress.

You’ve likely heard it before, but here are the common effects of stress:


Common effects of stress…

…on your body: …on your mood: …on your behaviour:
Headache Anxiety Overeating or undereating
Muscle tension or pain Restlessness Angry outbursts
Chest pain Lack of motivation or focus Drug or alcohol abuse
Change in sex drive Irritability or anger Tobacco use
Sleep problems Sadness or depression Social withdrawal


This is a blog about fundraising, so let’s look closer at how stress can affect your work:


Common effects of a stressed fundraiser…

…on your donors: …on your coworkers: …on your beneficiaries:
Personal connections can fade if you become more emotionally distant. Decrease in office morale Fewer donations = fewer programs
Decrease in the likelihood you’ll “go the extra mile” Decrease in the willingness to support one another If they interact with you and notice, they may feel a sense of responsibility for it.


Stress can come all at once, or it can creep up on you. Its effects may not be noticeable for weeks, even months. When it does though – and it will – it’s important you know how to deal with it. Try different things. Exercise may work for a while, other times you may need a new hobby. It could just be time for a vacation, or it could be time for a new job.

Only you have full control over mitigating, identifying, and dealing with stress. You can’t pass the blame to your employer or family. Even the most accommodating employer can’t keep employees stress-free, because fundraising is fundamentally a stressful job.

Peter Bregman wrote in the Harvard Business Review a great article called Use Stress to Your Advantage that really hit close to home for me. The further I read, the more I realized the stress reactions he described fit me to a tee (hint: I’ve been buzzing my hair as short as the clippers can go for about 6 months now).  Bregman’s advice is not that these stress reactions should be considered destructive. Rather, that if you can identify them as being indicative of stress then you’ll be better equipped to start dealing with the stress directly because of your awareness of the situation.

So, fundraisers – I’d love to hear personal perspectives on stress. Is stress more often coming from work and affecting your home life, or the opposite? What are your stress reactions? Do you feel like you can compartmentalize stress so that it doesn’t affect your quality of work?

You can comment below, or tell me what you think on Twitter. I’m @BrockWarner.

This post was by Brock Warner. Hailing from Toronto, Brock works to foster and place value upon the act of philanthropy, no matter the size of gift. As a professional, he values the ‘how’ as much as the ‘how much’ and desire to see the fruits of my labour and energy be a catalyst for positive change. Connect with Brock on Twitter at @BrockWarner.

Stress: Fundraisers Under Pressure

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