Runners feel it, so do dieters, writers and musicians. It’s that feeling you get when you’ve been pushing hard, visualizing your goals and then feel the energy drop. You know the mission is just as worthy as ever, but you’re tired, and the motivation just isn’t there. You hit a plateau or drop off altogether. Sustaining commitment for the long haul requires a different kind of energy and a different kind of thinking from what powered you up in the first place.
Sometimes, being a charitable giver can feel the same way. Whether it’s the response to an acute crisis like a wildfire, the recognition of a long-standing injustice like the racial reckoning after George Floyd’s murder or the ongoing effort to chip away at complex challenges like educational achievement for disadvantaged children, the initial passion can flag.
How do you reignite that charitable giving passion, restore your energy and renew your commitment to fund the needs that still remain? It can help to shift your mindset and take a few concrete actions.
The seasons of charitable giving
First, remind yourself that to everything, there is a season, including giving. There’s the hot summer when you’re fired up about a cause or leaping to action in the wake of a crisis. Your energy and passion are high, and you may be busy learning about nonprofits and issues, making donations and getting personally involved. Your actions and your sense of mission come together and keep you focused.
Fall is the time to harvest successes and take stock of the impact you’ve helped realize.
By winter, you may be spent. It’s a fallow season and a time to rest and restore energy for the remaining work ahead. It’s also a time to reflect on what worked and didn’t or on what you’d like to achieve in the future.
Spring brings new growth and growing energy for the heightened activity of the season to come. It can be a time when the seeds planted earlier come to life, rejuvenating what seemed lifeless or creating a whole new vista to appreciate.
Unlike the actual seasons, the seasons of social action or giving aren’t all of equal length, and they vary over time. Sometimes, givers experience long, exuberant summers whose rewards sustain them for years. Or they may burn brightly and swiftly, giving way to an early winter that makes them want to curl up on the couch for a nap. Recognizing that cycles are natural and appreciating the specific value of each season can help restore your sense of purpose.
Second, remind yourself that problems that took generations to create aren’t going to go away in an annual giving cycle. Systemic problems require long-term problem-solving. The challenges that disaster survivors face don’t end when the fire trucks roll out or the waters recede. Recognize that sustaining support is the most valuable support. When you truly care about impact, you need to keep at it to ensure the solutions stick and that those solutions evolve to meet community needs.
How to move from metaphoric winter to spring
Once you make those mental shifts, you can get back onto the giving track and even accelerate your philanthropy by taking the following concrete steps that will help till the ground to move you from your metaphoric winter to spring:
Seek out “mission moments” to get up close and personal with people, community or issues that inspired you in the first place. If hunger motivates you, volunteer at a food distribution site. If it’s education, check out a local reading program or become a mentor.
Many nonprofits host visits or educational events for donors to share more about their work. You can often find these in their newsletters or emails. This can help shift how you consider solutions in ways that center community, that are defined and directed by those living the experiences.
Explore and learn something new. There’s an abundance of podcasts, articles, TED talks and books about philanthropy or any social issue you could dream of. Stretch your horizons and challenge your assumptions.
Find a peer or an adviser to talk to about charitable giving. This can be informal or through a local club like Rotary, a network, a giving circle or as part of a more structured engagement with a philanthropic adviser. You might find that talking to someone who understands what you’re going through can help you move forward. Their inquiry can help you get clarity.
You might also find opportunities to collaborate and give together, which can be more enjoyable and often more effective than giving alone.
Check in on how well your giving aligns with your values, resources and preferred mode of making change. There’s no single way to give, and not every giver is the same. If your giving is out of alignment with who you are and the kind of giving you find most rewarding, give yourself a tune-up. It may reenergize your philanthropy. (Read more about this in my article Which Charitable Giving Archetype Are You?)
The challenges our communities and our planet face can test the resolve of even the most energetic and consistent givers. Motivation is hard to maintain over time. But if you see your energy slip and you feel the urge to hibernate, look at that as a signal that it’s time to reflect and restore, not to drop out. It’s just part of a cycle of growth and renewal. Then start to plant the seeds through learning and action so you can give with new vitality in the season ahead.
You have the power to make the sun shine any time of year.
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Catherine Crystal Foster is vice president of the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA) Advisory team. In her role, she provides strategic guidance across program areas for families, foundations, and corporations to accelerate social impact. Prior to joining RPA, she served as CEO and co-founder of Magnify Community, where she worked with Silicon Valley philanthropists to make bold and catalytic investments in the community. Catherine has led and advised philanthropic and nonprofit organizations for more than 20 years.
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