Half of fundraisers in the top job want to quit.
That's the bold headline from a study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy that was released in January. It was cause for a lot discussion about the dearth of fundraisers and why the profession is so seemingly broken.
The study's conclusions are unsurprising. They are also not fundraising specific. Similar research has been done with people in most professions, including medicine, law, teaching and more. There is burnout, frustration and cynicism everywhere because our culture doesn't cultivate meaning or recognize its power to transform our experiences.
In 1997, Amy Wrzeniewski at the University of Michigan and her collaborators released a study on the different ways in which we experience work, breaking it down into three categories:
1). As a job. It's about financial reward. It is simply a vehicle to fund what is meaningful in a person's life outside of work.
2). As a career. It's about advancement. Success is measured by recognition, reputation and results.
3). As a calling. It's about making a difference. Work becomes an expression of yourself. It allows you to share who you already are -- not who you will become -- and how your core values and natural gifts are put into action. People who experience work as a calling often feel lucky to have the opportunity to do their work.
It is our relationship to our work, not the kind of work we do, that matters. The more we experience our work as a calling, the more we experience the personal meaning it has for us: what we stand for and what difference we can make. It insulates us from a sense of isolation, stress and fatigue and allows us to better tolerate the job and career aspects of our work. Recently, I interviewed a candidate for one of the top jobs at a friend's nonprofit. As part of the process, he required applicants to tell their personal story in less than a page. Specifically, he asked them to share: "Why are you called to do this work?" Genius!
The next time you and your colleagues are feeling especially burned out, I recommend you host a Jeffersonian dinner (or a Jeffersonian breakfast, lunch or cocktail hour). Seated around your table -- Jefferson would not be Skyping -- share with each other why you are called to do your work and why it's more than a job or a career for you. If after honest self inquiry you come up empty on "the calling" discussion, perhaps then it IS time to consider something else. But give Jefferson a chance before you hit the quit button.