Celebrating Success: Why It’s Hard to Do!

Whilst working in fundraising, celebrating success was always something that I found difficult, whilst dwelling on failures was very easy. If I reached a fundraising target, then I’d immediately move onto the next target without batting an eyelid. Whereas, if I missed a fundraising target, then I would find myself awake in the middle of the night second guessing what I had done wrong.

This isn’t a fundraising-trait, it’s a human-trait. However, I do think that it’s particularly difficult in fundraising to celebrate successes and manage failures.

Why Do We Remember Negative Things More?

We register negative things more than positive things because of a phenomenon that psychologists call the Negativity Bias. Research into this shows that we tend to:

  • Pay more attention to negative events than positive ones
  • Learn more from negative outcomes and experiences
  • Make decisions based on negative information more than positive data

Negativity Bias isn’t restricted to you and I, many psychologists believe that focusing on bad things over good actually has evolutionary roots. So it’s basically hardwired into us. Laura Carstensen of Stanford University explains; “Many psychologists think that this has evolutionary roots; that is: It’s more important for people, for survival, to notice the lion in the brush than it is to notice the beautiful flower that’s growing on the other side of the way”

How Does This Affect Fundraisers?

Having worked in fundraising previously, I think that there are a few aspects of fundraising which reinforce and exacerbate Negativity Bias. So, whilst everyone experiences Negativity Bias, it feels like it is amped up for fundraisers.

1. Fundraisers spend most of their time receiving bad news

Regardless of how incredible you are as a fundraiser, you will receive bad news more often than good. We even build this into our fundraising strategies, for example, when submitting grant applications to new funders I always worked on the basis of having to submit 3 or 4 applications to receive a single grant. This meant that I was accepting that I would receive 2 or 3 rejections for every successful application.

2. Bad news affects fundraisers more than good news

Not only do fundraisers receive more bad news than good, but that bad news also has a more significant impact. One research example found that losing £50 made participants far more upset than gaining £50 made them happy. Which explains why I found losing a funding bid, having an unsuccessful campaign or missing out on a corporate partnership really difficult to shake off. Meanwhile, a successful funding bid, a successful campaign or winning a corporate partnership was celebrated only for as long as it took me to scroll to the next email in my inbox.

3. Never ending goals make bad news inevitable

“Fundraising is like a pie eating contest where the prize is more pie.” – Chris Baylis

If you reach, or exceed, a fundraising target then the reward is… a bigger target. If you reach that target, then you will be rewarded an even bigger target. Whether it takes a week, a month or a year, at some point the targets are going to become overwhelming and mean that failure is inevitable, even for the best fundraiser. If this sounds familiar, then there’s a fantastic blog from Simon Scriver on this topic.

The Celebration Cuppa

It is worth keeping in mind that the challenges listed above are based on ‘normal’ times. Everything has been amplified further in the past 12 months as fundraisers have tried to balance disruption to funding, with an unparalleled need for charity services. As well as trying to home-school, deal with furlough and generally trying to stay well during a global pandemic.

To go some way towards encouraging fundraisers to take a moment to reflect and appreciate upon achievements in the past year, we have created the Celebration Cuppa. You can enjoy a spoonful of success with your next cuppa by watching on demand. On the call, we hear from different fundraisers about what they have achieved during lockdown – you can expect to leave with a full heart and a full notepad of ideas for future campaigns!

Watch Now

Brad joined Donr in April 2020 having worked or volunteered in fundraising for over a decade. As well as being a full time member of our Innovation Team, Brad is also a trustee of two small charities, Chula and Children of Rwanda and sits on the Chartered Institute of Fundraising North East Committee.

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