Fundraising leadership in troubling times

James Boyle
James Boyle

James Boyle

Lately, it has been almost impossible to avoid hearing alarming reports about a slowing economy, rising fuel costs and the negative impact both are having on the lives of Americans. These bleak reports can take their toll on a person’s psyche, especially in the case of nonprofit leaders responsible for achieving the fundraising goals of their organizations.

Raising money is difficult enough, but during such periods when “donor belt-tightening” is predicted, the challenges nonprofit leaders face grow beyond soliciting donations to include managing an organization’s internal loss of energy and motivation in the wake of declining revenue.

Traditionally, these economic downturns leave everyone, from staff to volunteers, feeling weak, lethargic and fatigued.

It is natural for leaders themselves to experience a drain of energy, but now is not the time to succumb. In fact, now is the time for nonprofit leaders to step up and be a source of inspiration to those around them.

Energy, both high and low, is contagious. High energy is associated with positive thoughts and creates enthusiasm and movement, while low energy creates blocks and paralysis. Low energy must be overcome if leaders are to be a motivating presence in the workplace.

Here are some tips to help nonprofit leaders shift their energy.

Be conscious of your thoughts

What we choose to focus our thoughts on dictates our energy level and the energy we transfer to others.

Leaders need to understand the source of their thoughts. Start by asking yourself how possible it is that the way you feel is really the result of a recent economic report, an encounter with a board member, or even a personal event?

It is easy to get caught in a cycle where negative thoughts take hold of our emotions and alter our moods.

But being aware of what triggers our descent down the path of negative thinking affords us the opportunity to choose whether we continue down this path of negativity or choose to focus on positive thoughts that motivate and inspire us and those around us.

Be conscious of the energy levels of others

Just as your energy is contagious, so is the energy of those around you.

What is the likelihood that you are absorbing the low energy of a colleague who is talking about a terrible day?

Leaders can empathize with a colleague, but the danger comes when sympathy becomes your approach.

Sympathy means you have taken on the pain of someone’s unfortunate circumstance, while empathy is about understanding the situation while not getting emotionally attached.

It is not necessary to intentionally stop your own thoughts and feelings; rather, you must avoid getting caught up in them.

Make the shift 

Leaders realize they have less of a chance to help others when they’re in a state of low energy, so being conscious of your energy level is important.

When you recognize low energy in yourself, activate thoughts that will make you feel good. Whether it is remembering a pleasant experience, hearing a favorite song or simply telling yourself, “I want to feel good,” you have to push yourself to a place where your energy is high.

Shifting the energy of those around you can be an intentional or unintentional act.  Leaders are the spark that ignites the fire in others when they act on positive emotions, speak to staff with a passionate voice, answer questions in an inspirational way or simply emit confidence and joy.

There are always different ways for nonprofit leaders to approach what is happening in their world.

For leaders it is about making a choice. They can see the tough times and potential loss of revenue and conclude that things are hopeless. Or they can look at the world and see opportunities and possibilities.

This is a time to be creative and ingenious, and an opportunity to be the kind of leader that will inspire great triumphs from your staff.

James Boyle is founder and leadership coach at Higher Potentials based in New Jersey. He can be reached at or through

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