4 Lessons Positive Psychology Offers Fundraisers

“Look at the bright spots.” Have you ever heard someone say this in a meeting? There are times to look at what’s not working and assess how it can be fixed. However, there are times you should adjust your perspective and look at what’s working and analyze why it’s working. You can learn from success just as much as you can learn from failure. This is the thought behind the new age field of “positive psychology.”

Cultivating Happiness

Founded by Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania, positive psychology focuses on the study of such things as positive emotions, optimism, strengths-based character, genius and talent. When it comes to philanthropy, research has found that the happiness from doing something altruistic is long-lasting–compared to happiness received from doing something “fun.” The pursuit of meaning is also the strongest in driving happiness versus the pursuits of pleasure.

Positive psychology reminds us of four key cornerstone values needed for successful fundraising:

1) Understand the true extent of why relationships matter.

Building relationships not only impacts fundraising and program efforts, but they also mold the culture of our organizations, how we approach our work and how others connect with what we’re doing. But we all know relationships take work. If you are not a “people person,” positive psychology tells us that we will want to develop the skills and the knowledge to know what does make a healthy, strong relationship.

For those looking to grow in this area, work to build your emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence refers to your self awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management with others. And maybe it’s not just you, but perhaps your volunteers need emotional intelligence training or your staff. Find those in your organization who are great connectors with people and ask them what works for them and share that knowledge with team members.

How can you help increase people’s happiness based on their interaction with you and your organization? To learn more about this, read about Zappo’s and how they’ve created a movement around delivering happiness. You can also assess your own character strengths.

2) Develop happy content.

What you say matters–but the way you say it in terms of design, form and function all matter as well. How can you re-work what you’re saying and doing to highlight optimism, passion and purpose?

You may want to check out emotional design. You don’t need to look far for examples of good emotional design. Can we say Apple, iPod, iPhone and iPad any faster? Emotion design refers to the idea that emotions play a crucial role in the human ability to understand the world, and how we learn new things. Put into the context of happy content, emotional design means writing content and developing tools that leave users happy, energized, and excited about what you’re doing. This means your site works, loading times are minimized, the user experience is easy to follow and a whole host of other good nuggets.

Intrigued? View the top 12 latest emotional design books to put on your holiday wish list.

3) Adopt a grateful heart.

Thanksgiving is in two days—is your mouth watering yet? Positive psychology encourages us to develop the skills to be happy. Guess what one of these key, most crucial skills is? Being thankful. Not only is being gracious good for your health (literally), but it can help improve your productivity by increasing your level of happiness.

There are a number of ways to be thankful and to grow this skill set. One idea? Involve others and find a “gratitude buddy.” Even if it’s just for the next couple of days, designate someone in your life who you can practice sharing Thanksgiving with. It will be a transition for you and help you grow, especially if 2011 has been a difficult year for you.

4) Show simple acts of kindness.

As mentioned above, participating in altruistic activities helps people stay happy longer. If they associate this happiness with you, it can only help you in the long run by further developing and building strong relationships (see #1 above). As a nonprofit, I challenge you and ask: How are you showing your community simple acts of kindness?

But Wait, There’s More

Admittedly, I’m not an expert on positive psychology, but the field itself is fascinating the deeper you dig into it. I encourage you to explore more about positive psychology and what it means to you:

Now, where are your bright spots?