The power of enthusiasm – 3 ways to strengthen it

‘So how are you?’

It was Monday morning and I was hastily preparing flip charts as the group of arrived behind me and I heard the familiar question. As one of the fundraisers I was about to train responded, I found my attention drawn to the unusual conviction of her reply.

‘I feel absolutely great. I went on the Spring Institute and it was amazing…I came back absolutely buzzing… in fact I couldn’t get to sleep on Friday night so I just sat at my computer writing up all my ideas…’

When I turned around, it was immediately obvious who had been speaking. She was not talking now, but her upbeat mood was evident from her posture and body language.

The reason I feel bound to share this with you is the effect that her enthusiasm (I’m going to call her Emma) had on the rest of the room. Actually, the whole team was pretty hungry to improve their fundraising skills, but Emma’s energy was on another level. Although it transpired that she was one of the more junior members of the team, on that day she was in fact a leader, by which I mean she had a positive impact on everyone around her.

If you’re thinking that this person’s mojo might have been irritating, I can confirm that it wasn’t, I think for two reasons. For one, she was able to keep rapport with the rest of us. She remained interested in everyone around her and what they had to say; And secondly, her enthusiasm was absolutely real, rather than fake.

The truth is, though this might sound a bit un-British, in both work and personal life, enthusiasm is an invaluable emotion to nurture.

When I have led teams, I have found that colleagues with big enthusiasm but a mediocre skill level have been more valuable than those who are very skilful but unenthusiastic. (Of course ideally you want both, but it’s far easier to increase your skill level if you are enthusiastic).

The intention of this blog is not to urge you to suddenly decide to ‘be more enthusiastic’. Even if this were possible, the suggestion would probably be annoying and counter-productive.

So if finding our enthusiasm is so valuable to fundraising success, but it’s sometimes difficult to turn on it on, what can we do to increase it?

  1. Get in that environment. Go and do something that’s likely to make you more enthusiastic – Emma could not help but exude such positive energy because she had just come back from an inspiring environment at the CASE Spring Institute in Education Fundraising. And fundraisers who have taken part in the Major Gifts Mastery Programme feed back to me that apart from the strategies they learn, it is also the regular access to an encouraging and inspiring environment that helps them take more bold action, which in turn generates more gifts. So what conference, course or Special Interest Group talk could you apply for today?
  1. Spend time with an upbeat colleague. Even if right now you have done everything you can to persuade your budget holder to let you go to an inspiring learning programme or conference, at the very least, who do you know that usually exudes positive energy? Today, go and talk to them or schedule a coffee for later. When there is rapport, the person who is more certain of something, over time influences the other – so spending time with this person will make it easier for you to re-light / strengthen your spark.
  1. Defy the cultural conditioning. Give yourself permission to be positive / excited about something. For most children, showing excitement is natural. But when most of us were teenagers, continuing to show this enthusiasm would have risked criticism from the rest of the group, so we soon learned to tone it down. If someone asked us how we felt about something it was safer to say it was ‘not bad’ than ‘fantastic’.


The trouble is, if you say ‘not bad’ or ‘fine’ enough times, it actually dampens the emotion you feel. The antidote is to allow yourself greater precision with the words you use, just as Emma did. By truthfully voicing her excitement, the emotion itself became reinforced, in an authentic way, which in turn made it easier for her to exert such a positive influence on herself and her colleagues.

Need to increase major donor / trust income? Find out how the Major Donor Mastery Programme will help