Almost everyone is originally attracted to a cause or organization because its work is something they feel passionate about. Whether that cause is families, foster care, substance abuse, mental illness, international relief, physical or intellectual disabilities, advocacy, faith, the environment, arts, education, healthcare, animal welfare, housing, or public policy, what attracts each person is almost always a prior personal experience. Perhaps they have a family member with that particular disability or a close friend who experienced discrimination due to a mental illness. Perhaps they developed a love of the outdoors as a child, or their passion for science dates back to the first time they looked through a microscope in elementary school science class.
But passion can become buried or lost over time. When that happens, how do you get it back?
We do a small group exercise at our workshops that we call the Passion Retread exercise. Working in the nonprofit sector, the tread on the passion tire sometimes wears thin. So we ask each person in the small group to answer these two simple questions:
- Why do you work or volunteer at this particular organization?
- What is it about their unique work or mission that inspires you and keeps you engaged?
While some volunteers will say that they want to give back to the community, when we ask them to take a deeper look, many tell us they feel called to do the work of the organization. For them it is an avocation. Answering these simple questions truthfully, in a small group of dedicated board members, staff, and volunteers, reconnects people to their own passion, to each other, and to the mission of the organization.
I once asked a group of board members from a chapter of the American Lung Association to answer these questions. One of their long-standing board members immediately offered his response. "I know exactly why I'm here," he said. "When my son, Adam, was eight years old, he died in my arms while having an asthma attack. I vowed in that moment to give my life to doing whatever I could to find a cure for childhood asthma so that no other parent would ever have to experience such a tragic and painful loss."
Before you embark on implementing the Benevon Model for Sustainable Funding, do this exercise with your entire team. Ask each person to look more deeply at their own reasons for being involved with the organization. Then give them the time to share their answer to this question with the rest of the group. It will focus each team member on their unique connection to the mission of the organization and add new tread to their passion. It will bond you as a team and sustain you as you move forward.
This exercise also works well for long-standing board members, volunteers, and staff. Most nonprofit organizations do very little to nurture their passion, yet over time any of us can become so caught up in the routine of everyday work that our initial enthusiasm wanes.