Mastering Self-Motivation: Help Your Nonprofit Reach Its Wildest Dream – Guest Blog Post

This article first appeared in Karen Eber Davis’ Blog. For more information follow this link. To contact Karen, go to www.kedconsult.com or call 941-924-4860.


Self-motivation, the ability to cajole yourself into doing your most important priorities, is an incredibly valuable tool in your nonprofit success toolkit. When we stop to think, we recognize that what keeps us from doing our priorities is not urgent matters, but a willpower shortage. We need more willpower because most priorities require us to step outside our comfort zone. Without willpower, any excuse will do.

A friend recently told me that my middle name was discipline. While I am not sure that was a compliment or comment on my stubbornness, and while I have tons to learn before I master self-discipline, what a follows is an overview of the tools upon which I depend to self-motivate.

1. Vision Focus. Your vision is your endless source of motivation. When you don’t want to do the next important actions, it helps to remember what you want to create. In other words, step away from your current fear and remember the big picture. What will it be like to stand in the place you envision? What will you see? Smell? Taste? What sounds will your feet make underfoot as you move forward? When you learn to ride a bike, you succeed by looking ahead, not down. Working from inside your vision offers you perspective to help you separate out and balance the urgent from the important. Your vision calls to you and offers you courage.

2. Determine One Key Action. You can’t do everything. You can identify the key action to do now to solve your greatest challenge. This key action must be something you control. For example, one CEO’s key goal is to improve the board. To do so, she needs to get more potential board members into the pipeline. Her key action is contacting busy candidates by email or phone and asking for a meeting with them. For a nonprofit with a long donor list, the vice president of development’s key action is to issue personal invitations that correspond to the next step in a pre-determined moves management plan. Most key actions involve reaching out to people that we believe are reluctant to interact with us—often for reasons we conjure. Some will turn us down.

3. Set The Goal. You have 100 things you can do today. Most of them you should do today. Bad news! You won’t get them all done. To reach your vision, you need to do your key action today. Commit to a reasonable goal for the number of key actions you will take this month. This could be 1, 5, 20, or 200. It depends on the action. Stretch up, but not so far that you fall over. On or before the end of the month, fulfill your commitment to yourself. “Determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way.” — Abraham Lincoln

4. Do, Measure, Reward, and File. Unfortunately, no vision is as strong as the habits developed to avoid key actions. You need self-motivation. Here is how to get it. In 90-minute time blocks, set aside in advance, take the key actions.  For that 90 minutes, do nothing else. If you find yourself pulled off task, add 5 minutes to the clock. After 90 minutes of progress, tackle the other 99 tasks on your to-do list. You acted. It is sufficient. Repeat next month, and the next. As you work, record the results on a graphic. Give yourself the small joy of seeing a thermometer, or other graphic, fill with progress.

5. Believe. This may even be harder than the “do” step. As a child, Freeman Hrabowski sat in a pew while Martin Luther King, Jr. preached at Hrabowski’s home church. Today, he is president off the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. It would have been hard for the people in his congregation to believe this was even possible. Change is not only possible; change is inevitable. You have taken thoughtful action to move you toward your vision, and you now trust that those actions will provide great return. Avoid pulling up the carrot to check the roots and interfere with its growth. Plant today, tend the crops tomorrow, harvest soon.

6. Tweak With Joy. Fine-tune as you do your work. Think about ways to improve your key action. For instance, you called 20 people last month. All turned down your lunch offer. Did you learn anything? Not really. Moan, Moan, Moan. How can you turn this to your advantage? Tweak it: Offer alternatives such as lunch, coffee, or a meeting in their office. Tweak it more: Before you call, determine to learn something from everyone to whom you speak. For instance, ask how you can improve the nonprofit. Find out if they have seen the new information about an upcoming event? What are their impressions of your work? Are they willing to give you a quote to use in your newsletter column? Tweak like Michelangelo faced with a block of marble, sculpt away what doesn’t work, and reveal what does. When your key action becomes about learning, you gain the joy of learning new skills. By studying and improving, in time you will become a master at what is most important. Your successes will become more consistent.

7. Sugar. Really. Scientists now understand that motivation or self-discipline is finite and it is replenished with sugar and rest. You will be firmer in your resolve if you tackle your key actions, i.e. those telephone calls, early in the day or just after lunch. Work with this energy, not against it. (Note, while glucose has been studied, see http://www.livescience.com/23823-motivation-boost-sugar-swish.html, my experience is that the combination of good food and rest work longer than a sugar high.)

Review this list, and pick out one tool to strengthen your self-motivation. As I write, I am inspired to do more of my key action. This is to contact you and let you know the tremendous value I can offer your nonprofit organization to help you reach your income potential and fulfill your mission. Take my call so that together we can help you to achieve your most important priority.

Related Resources:
Davis’ Leadership Activities for Growth
Karen’s Dozen Tips to Enhance Accountability
Ready or Not Time Management Tool
Time Management for Nonprofit Organizations


Guest Blogger:  Karen Eber Davis is on a mission to help nonprofit leaders generate the ideas and resources they need to fulfill their goals in creative, effective and, whenever possible, brilliant ways. She is nonprofit  income opportunity expert, team builder, and strategy specialist. As president of a consulting firm, she draws on her full set of skills to help nonprofit organizations plan and fund their way to excellence.


Photo credit to: Microsoft Office Clip Art


Jeanne Ward is a Consultant and Personal Strategist who brings her knowledge of psychology, strategy and personal fulfillment to her current work. Jeanne started her career by helping mentally ill inmates to ‘get their lives back on track’ as they integrated back into society from jail in NYC. She leveraged this experience with a Social Work degree to manage teams who were supporting people trying to move back into the workforce. She later lived in Atlanta, GA and Frankfurt, Germany where she began consulting with nonprofit organizations to guide them on their strategy, volunteer development, and organizational development as well as to support the development of their leaders and board of directors. After the jolt of a divorce, Jeanne found herself doing a lot of soul-searching. Digging deep, she arrived at a new-found appreciation for herself and the world around her. This journey taught her that when we start with improving ourselves, the benefits multiply. Jeanne realized that her strengths of strategic thinking, relationship building, and implementation planning could be combined into her ongoing passion of personal leadership. Hence, her personal strategy work was born. Jeanne helps men and women between the ages of 35 and 55 who are fed up with their corporate jobs to create fulfilling professional and personal lives through the development of a personal strategic plan. This work ensures that her clients identify their professional and personal goals as well as create a plan to make those goals a reality. Jeanne is also the Executive Director of the Atlanta Road Trotters Kid’s Running Club, a nonprofit organization that provides a platform for children to build a foundation of running health and fitness which leads to a better connection to the organized running community as well as a strong foundation of Discipline, Self-Esteem, Respect and Team Work. She has also co-authored a workbook on networking, founded and organized the National Association of Social Workers-Georgia-sponsored ‘Social Service Career Network’ and organized a summit for the National Alliance for Mentally Ill attended by over 100 organizations from 6 Atlanta counties. Previously, she sat on the board of NASW GA as their Secretary as well as on the board of NAMI GA/DeKalb as their Co-President, was a senior consultant for the Georgia Center for Nonprofits and helped to run a capital campaign for an independent school. Jeanne has an MSW from Hunter School of Social Work (City University of New York), an MA in Forensic Psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice (City University of New York) and a BA in Psychology from Emory University. Jeanne lives in Atlanta with her ten-year-old son.

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