3 min read

Passion is all well and good, but when it comes to fulfilling your mission, professional discipline is key.

Passion at nonprofits is common.

Most of us who work in the nonprofit industry do so because we are deeply passionate about the mission or missions we support. They offer meaning to our lives, paths to personal betterment, and concrete ways to help people and advance the causes we care about.

These are some of the benefits of working in this sector.

Unfortunately, we often go all in on passion and come up short on professional discipline. We see and participate in our organization’s exciting work and get fired up to accomplish the next big goal. “We can do this!” we shout.

But can we really?

I would suggest that the only way to answer that question in the affirmative is to rein in the heady passion and muster some discipline. Motivation is nice, it makes us feel warm inside. But when push comes to shove . . . motivation is worthless.

In all work, but especially in the nonprofit sector, in order to be successful you have to do the right things, the right way, consistently and over time. Fits and starts of motivation will do nothing for you, no matter how much passion fuels them. Success requires habit, it requires pushing for excellence when you’re tired and unmotivated, it requires making the effort every day, regardless of whether you woke up that morning raring to accomplish your mission. 

A Tale of Two Gift Officers

Consider the example of two major gifts officers. One is motivated and excited to advance his mission. The other is highly disciplined, and has established a plan he is ready to execute. 

Mr. Motivation

Our oh-so-motivated major gifts officer arrives at work on a Monday and picks up the phone. He begins calling. But he hears a few “noes” and starts to get frustrated. “Why aren’t they as excited as I am?” he wonders.

The noes continue to roll in and he finds himself barely able to pick up the phone any longer. He wonders whether his job is even worth doing. Finally, a week in, he gets a yes, and his motivation resurges. He’s landed a meeting! He makes no more calls, filled with excitement about the meeting he finally landed.

The meeting occurs . . . and Mr. Motivation gets a no. Now, he’s left with nothing. Disappointed and on the brink of despair, all he can do is pick up the phone again. And that phone feels very heavy.

Mr. Discipline

Mr. Discipline arrives at work on Monday and, in accordance with his plan, knows he’ll probably have to get through 20 noes before he lands a yes. He starts calling. He has learned to love no, and actually savors each one, knowing he’s one call closer to the inevitable yes. On day one, he makes enough calls to land a meeting by 2:00 pm. But he doesn’t stop there; his plan mandates that he try to make a certain number of calls each day—a number he hasn’t yet hit. And what do you know, when 5:00 rolls around, he’s landed another meeting.

Mr. Discipline prepares for his donor meetings thoroughly, but he doesn’t let that preparation keep him from hitting his call number goal each day. He now has many upcoming meetings; some will be successful, some will not.

When he returns from his meetings, he continues to follow his plan, continues to pick up the phone. He’s made the plan, and now he’s seeing the benefits of sticking to it. He doesn’t get down in the dumps when the noes come because he knows the next yes is right around the corner.

Mr. Motivation and Mr. Discipline likely have the same passion for the mission of their nonprofit. So what’s the difference between them? Mr. Motivation has the best of intentions, but he lacks Mr. Discipline’s commitment to executing his plan. Motivation is emotive and has more ups and downs than an EKG. Discipline shows up to work every day with unwavering commitment and professionalism—and he gets the work done.

We should all be passionate about the work our organizations do, but we must not stop there. In fact, we do a disservice to our missions and the people we serve when we allow ourselves to rely solely on motivation. Motivation comes and goes. Discipline endures, and is thus the most effective way to advance your mission. 



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