Four ways you benefit from being a learner

It can be hard to make time for learning and activities that keep you inspired, but here are four ways I’ve found it pays you back generously for what you invest.

In twenty years of studying the habits and beliefs of very successful fundraisers, I can tell you that they do not all share the same traits, but there is one thing I’ve noticed in them all, and it’s this. They value learning. Even when busy, they’re conscious of the importance of being open to new ideas. However accomplished, they always believe there is more to learn.

And this was before the pandemic turned the world and our fundraising environment upside down.

And now? Finding time and courage to learn is now even more important than ever, for many reasons, but here are The Big Four in my experience:

  • ADAPT – Now more than ever, we need to adapt
  • PRIME – Learning positively primes your approach to problem solving
  • BOOST – A sense of progress lifts your mood
  • GRIT – Learners are more resilient than non-learners

1) Now more than ever, our charities must adapt or face the consequences.

‘According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.’ 

Leon C Megginson

To survive and even thrive in spite of the challenges we now face, we need to adapt our approach. We need to find new ways of doing things.

Notoriously, Blockbuster failed to adapt to the rise of streaming (even though the owners were offered the chance to invest heavily in Netflix); Kodak failed to adapt to the popularity of digital photography, even though their R and D team had led the way in developing the technology.

The fact that throughout history, many previously successful organisations have failed to adapt to changes in their environment, shows that change is not easy.

It’s not easy, but I don’t believe we can contemplate the alternative. And it’s even harder if we don’t deliberately embrace and encourage learning as a value, because left to our own devices, as human beings it’s all too easy to default to what we know.

2) Priming yourself to learn makes you more resourceful, day by day

One reason I believe it’s smart to regularly make time to learn, especially when there is so much bad news around, is what some psychologists have called the priming effect.

For instance, Professor John Bargh of Yale University found that if you have just held a warm cup of coffee for just two minutes, you’re more likely to judge strangers as having ‘warm’ rather than ‘cold’ personalities! Yes, really. Prof Bargh suggests ‘primes’ are like whistles that can only be heard by our mental ‘inner butler’. Once roused, these dutiful servants act on your pre-existing tendencies, making you more likely to follow those tendencies as your day unfolds.

I appreciate that this idea may sound far-fetched, but I imagine you’ve found that after hearing some bad news, you find it harder to react optimistically to other events later in the same day. And when you’re on a roll, you know it’s usually easier to be level-headed and positive when a new challenge comes your way.

I firmly believe that unless we take steps to expose our conscious and unconscious brains to positive ideas and examples during these troubled times, it will be extremely difficult to take bold action or notice potential opportunities as we go about our fundraising tasks.

This is consistent with the ideas I discuss in the first chapter of my e-book Power Through the Pandemic – seven ways to raise funds with major donors, corporates and trusts, even now (which you can download for free). In that first chapter, I explain that many of the fundraisers I have interviewed who have been doing especially well in spite of all the challenges of the last few months, have done what Hal Elrod recommends in The Miracle Morning. In the book, he recommends that reading or listening to something encouraging or useful for as little as ten minutes each morning, has a positive effect on your brains’ ability to solve problems during the day.

3) A sense of progress boosts your mood

In Episode 26 of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast I interview a very resourceful fundraising manager named Stevie who works for a medium sized medical charity, who has been proactively organising learning sessions for her colleagues using the podcast itself. She explains that each week, she has been choosing a half-hour episode she feels would be useful to her colleagues in the fundraising department. She then schedules a time for everyone to listen to it, and then hosts a virtual discussion to explore ways to implement any ideas the episode has inspired.

In that interview of the podcast, she shares examples of how this has led to increased income and boosted morale, including one new partnership worth £5000. She explains that these learning hours have a positive effect on the energy levels and proactivity of her colleagues, at a time when morale can dip for numerous lock-down related reasons.

We find the same thing at the end of our weekly live coaching calls for the Bright Spot Club. People leave more energised than when they arrived, both because of the sense of connection they get with other positive people, and because of the sense of progress through their learning and problem solving.

When we feel we’re stuck, that we’re at the mercy of events, your mojo shrinks and it’s harder to take confident action. When we learn something, when we feel like we’re making progress, it feels good, so as Stevie and her colleagues have found, it’s easier to take action and reap the rewards.

4) Learners are more resilient than non-learners.

And in Episode 4 of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast on Fundraising Resilience, I explain Professor Angela Duckworth’s findings that very resilient people invariably score highly on measures of ‘growth mindset’.

In Carol Dweck’s best-selling book Mindset, she explains that when you have a ‘growth’ mindset (as opposed a ‘fixed’ mindset) you don’t see your abilities in any area as permanent. So whether its maths, fundraising, leadership or any other discipline in question, to have growth mindset means you believe you can always get better if you take steps to learn.

At a time when resilience / bounce-backability is perhaps the most important quality of all in fundraisers, it’s smart to make time for regular learning activities. We’ve found that anything that reinforces and encourages a growth mindset, also helps us be more gritty in the face of adversity.

3 Ideas To Help You Get These Benefits

  • LISTEN – Podcasts are also free, and a great option to stay learning and inspired, not least because you can get other things done (eg exercise, housework etc) at the same time. Again, there are lots of great shows you could listen to, but in case you’ve not tried it, one option is the Fundraising Bright Spots show, full of inspiring real examples and practical advice, which you can subscribe to for free from I-tunes, Spotify and Stitcher.
  • INVEST IN TRAINING TO LIFT YOUR RESULTS – The most sure-fire way to transform your results is to enrol in a course, which is properly designed to not only give you ideas, techniques and strategies, but also, CRUCIALLY is designed to support you in implementing those ideas in your work. Obviously it’s better to have good ideas and information than not to, but often, just the information on its own is not enough. Since fundraising is rarely plain sailing, the most powerful way to make a step change in your results, is to join a programme where you are helped to execute those improved strategies. Our most powerful training is our Major Gifts and Corporate Mastery Programmes. Over the last six years, these six-month programmes have helped hundreds of fundraisers to lift their RESULTS as well as their knowledge and confidence. If you’d like to find out more, follow the relevant link – Major Gifts Mastery Programme; or Corporate Mastery Programme – or feel free to get in touch to request a quick chat if you have any questions.