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As development professionals, we’re professional contortionists. Constantly pulled in a thousand different directions, we learn to be graceful and prioritize what matters most.

But, our profession is in crisis. Our peers are constantly overworked, undervalued, and stressed beyond measure. In a culture that values metrics and data, we are losing the human element of what we do. While many of us accept the reality that the average turnover for a development director is 18-months1, enough is enough.

A culture shift of this magnitude may seem like a lot of hard work, but what I’m proposing is the exact opposite.

Did you know that “play” is one of the keys to both personal and professional success? Yet, our lives are not always built this way. Brene Brown2, esteemed researcher and storyteller, shares that: “Play—doing things just because they’re fun and not because they’ll help achieve a goal—is vital to human development.” In a world where we are taught to value discomfort and hard work as proof of success, this goes against everything we have been taught.

Yet, there can be gain without pain. In their book “Primed to Perform,” Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor unpack the key to motivation3 and the secrets behind well-performing companies and teams. They write, “you’re most likely to… succeed in any other endeavor when your motivation is play. Play is the most direct and most powerful driver of high performance.” Now, think back to your most motivated and successful team. In what ways were you encouraged to play?

My development colleagues are the most creative and high-achieving people I have ever met. Yet, when we are placed in environments lacking opportunities to collaborate, brainstorm, and ideate – we accomplish only a fraction of their potential.

It may be easier than you think to find “play” at work when “fun” is literally in your job description! Here are my tips for infusing joy and bringing play into everything you do:

  • Surround yourself with positive people, starting with you! Positivity is infectious, and teams that operate with optimism are not only more likable, which boosts productivity, but also more successful.4 In fact, highly optimistic people are 103% more inspired to do their best work.5 We’ve all been there: you’re trapped, talking to someone who drones on and on about everything wrong with the world. That energy attaches to you and you spend the rest of your day feeling lethargic, grouchy, and pessimistic. As fundraisers, we only have a short window of time to make a good impression with our potential donors. When we bring value to our relationships through positive energy and an optimistic outlook, we expand our networks and build donor-centric relationships with ease. If this seems daunting, start with your body language: uncross your arms, try a more uplifting expression, and approach your conversations with physical openness. It all starts by saying yes!
  • Find the humor in everything! I can’t think of a funnier profession than fundraising. Our days are filled with awkward pauses during donor meetings and solicitations, presentations with rebellious technology, and interactions with opinionated and sometimes eccentric individuals. Humor is the best way to get through those tough days. Odds are there’s at least one person that you can make laugh. If not, maybe try making new friends! Laughter literally changes your brain chemistry to improve your health and wellbeing.6 When you cultivate an environment where mistakes, courage, and humor are valued, you also encourage creativity, play, and openness. Now, you don’t have to be the funny one to make humor happen; but, you do need to welcome the curious, the weird, and the odd to cultivate an environment where humor can thrive. Don’t know where to start? It may be out of your comfort zone but try enrolling in an improvisational comedy class to learn the secrets of collaboration, confidence, and teamwork that will not only make you a better fundraiser but also a better and more well-rounded you.
  • Lead with vulnerability! Vulnerability is a buzzword these days for a reason. When you fully express yourself personally and professionally, your energy becomes magnetic. When you draw others in with whatever makes you unique, you build trust, authenticity, and likeability. Embrace it! By just being you, your relationships with existing and prospective donors will become deeper and more meaningful. By expressing yourself by leaning into who you are, you strengthen both yourself and those around you. A fundraiser is nothing without a network, so make sure your network knows the real you!

There’s a culture shift happening in Fundraising and I believe these three tips are the foundation. What did I miss – how do you put the Fun in Fundraising?


Works Cited

  1. “Shutting the Revolving Door of Development Turnover -.” Philanthropy Daily, 3 Feb. 2020,
  2. “Brené Brown: The Very Best Resolution You Can Make This Year.”,
  3. Doshi, Neel, and Lindsay Mcgregor. Primed to Perform : How to Build the Highest Performing Cultures through the Science of Total Motivation. New York, Harper Business, An Imprint Of Harpercollins Publishers, 2015.
  4. “Are Optimistic Employees More Successful?” Management Consulted, 23 June 2021,
  5. Murphy, Mark. “Optimistic Employees Are 103% More Inspired to Give Their Best Effort at Work, New Data Reveals.” Forbes, Accessed 12 Mar. 2022.
  6. “The Natural High of Laughter.” Psychology Today,
Julia Cinnamon

Julia Cinnamon

Julia Cinnamon is the Director of Development West Region at Repair the World

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