Lessons for Fund Raisers from The Happy Movie

This week I attended a viewing of The Happy Movie (http://www.thehappymovie.com), a documentary that explores research from the field of positive psychology about what makes us happy. It was hosted by the International Coach Federation, Toronto Chapter and it was delightful to watch the movie with a group of people who are passionate about helping people live fulfilling lives. After the movie, we had a discussion led by Louisa Jewell of Positive Matters. Louisa is an expert in the field of positive psychology which focuses on how to make people’s lives more fulfilling.

As a Joy Coach, I work with fund raisers to help create an inspired vision that transforms lives. Philanthropy brings joy to donors and makes life for more fulfilling for the people who benefit from their gifts. My desire is for fund raisers to celebrate their contributions and acknowledge themselves for making a positive difference in the world. Fund raising can be a challenging career and my passion is helping fund raisers connect to their personal values and strengths so they can undertake their work with even more joy.

One of the interesting lessons that positive psychology teaches us is that we are not very good at guessing what will make us happy or unhappy. A classic example is money. In North America we are often focused on success and making more money. But research shows that once we have enough to meet our needs, more money has little impact on our happiness.

So what does make us happy? The movie offers many practical ideas to make us happier. One of the most exciting outcomes for me was to see how working in the world of philanthropy offers so many opportunities to build happiness.

Focus on Intrinsic Values: Focusing on extrinsic values like money, power and fame have been shown to make us less likely to be happy than intrinsic values like compassion, cooperation and wanting to make the world a better place. This is great news for fund raisers whose work naturally aligns with these intrinsic values.

Be a part of something that offers a sense of meaning and purpose: When you identify your personal values and connect them to the work that your organization is doing it brings happiness. There are likely many times when you feel overwhelmed with all the tasks you have to accomplish. When you stop and articulate how you are living your values in the activity, it creates inspiration and energy. My passion is helping people stay connected to this bigger purpose.

Act with Compassion: Compassion is defined as an awareness of another person’s suffering combined with the desire to relive it. The very nature of your work offers a chance to feel empathy and to undertake work that helps change someone’s life in a positive way. You also create opportunities for donors to expand their compassion. This is a gift.

Practice Gratitude: The next time you pick up the phone to thank a donor or write a stewardship letter, take a moment to pause and enjoy your gratitude. And don’t stop with your donors. Make sure you express gratitude to your colleagues and staff on a regular basis. That will help you spread the joy.

When Louisa Jewell was wrapping up the movie debrief, she said something that struck me. We can share with people what science teaches us about happiness, but ultimately we are all unique and have to figure out what makes us happy.

So I ask you to reflect on your career as a fund raiser and ask “What makes me happy?” I would love to hear your thoughts.

© 2012, Janice Cunning. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this posting if you include my contact information. Please contact me if you wish to reprint any portion of it in any periodical or on a website

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About Janice Cunning

As a certified coach and fundraiser, I am passionate about partnering with people and teams to increase their personal and professional Joy Quota.

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