28 Fundraisers Share How They're Maintaining Their Optimism Quotient

Nov 25, 2020

By Cathy Mann, MA, CFRE

In the car driving around Nova Scotia, just a few months after returning to live here, I got to thinking about optimism. Maybe it was the beauty I was surrounded by that led me there, but it stuck in my head and when I got to where I was going, I sat down and wrote a blog post about it. 

Then I got to thinking that I should ask my LinkedIn peeps what keeps their OQ (Optimism Quotient) fueled. So, I did. And they did not disappoint.

I wanted to share some of the answers that stuck out for me. Almost everyone had multiple ways they recharged their Optimism Quotient, so I have highlighted just a few of the ideas shared and somewhat arbitrarily put them into a few categories.

Before I get there, I want to talk about the difference between staying positive and being optimistic.  Paul Nazareth wrote in response to my question, “I struggle with staying positive.” It might be semantics – maybe I’m just splitting hairs over similar words – but I think there is a difference between being positive and being optimistic. And had Paul not said this, I wouldn’t have thought about it. So, thanks Paul.

There have been lots of times in my life where I didn't feel positive. I felt downright crappy -  but I was optimistic things would get better - even in the face of feeling like crap.

If you look at my LinkedIn description, among other things it says I’m a pessimistic optimist. I’m not always positive. In fact, I can be quite negative about the state of things and people. I often believe the worst of people as a collective. I am a pessimist. I do kind of believe the worst will happen. Because history tells us time and again that bad things happen. I have lived through bad stuff. I work with clients that try to help people pick up the pieces of their lives that have happened because of bad stuff.

But it doesn’t serve us well to just be pessimistic. We know bad stuff is going to happen. Choosing how to respond to that bad stuff is what makes me a pessimistic optimist.

I'm not sure how much of my optimism is optimism and how much of it is stubbornness. If I think I’m doing the right thing… I will stubbornly and optimistically keep at it.

I had a client just the other day write to me to say that she was so frustrated that a funder didn’t get what they were trying to accomplish and turned them down again. “I’m done with them,” she said. “NEVER GIVE UP,” I wrote to her.

Is that optimism? Or stubbornness? I think it’s a bit of both. 

You can’t be a fundraiser if you don’t believe that good things can happen. Because if you’re a student of history and you know that bad stuff happens … you can also find examples of good things happening. You know that there is cause to be hopeful. it just may take some doing to find that reason for hope. I have been accused of being excruciatingly hopeful or unrealistically hopeful. And I’d say that has been true in some areas of my life. That’s why I think pessimistic optimist works for me: I believe bad stuff is going to happen but I’m hopeful we’ll somehow find our way through it.

Now, I leave the rest of this article over to the folks who responded to my LinkedIn question. (I edited to get all of the awesome answers in here.)

Thanks to all of you for showing up for optimism!

Remind yourself of your organization's impact

I love how many people went straight to their mission: they were inspired and refueled their optimism by connecting with the folks who use their services. After all, that’s why we do what we do, right?

Brandon Fairley

I find it helpful if you have the opportunity to connect with the members/service recipients who are benefitting from your hard work. We often get bogged down by the task of fundraising that we forget the impact our hard work has on the lives of so many.

Karen J. Scott

  • I talk to the kids and they teach me so much. I have to do what I can from where I am at for their futures.
  • I look at the pics of the kids in our programs or join them via Zoom. Smiles and laughter to light the world.

Kathleen Barnard

When we were in the office pre pandemic, I’d write on a white board, just for staff: imagine if we weren’t here/look how much better it is for our constituents because of us example. Remind yourself of the great work you do!

Debra Bond-Gorr

I see great hope for a truly monumental shift in what we value as a society away from the economy. It may give us a chance to create however slowly a more just, inclusive, understanding, respectful and peaceful world. So I am actually quietly optimistic. 

Connect with donors and staff

And then there were those whose optimism was refueled by talking with donors

Susan Mullin

Fundraisers are a "glass half full" (maybe even three quarters full!) group. There are three things that keep me optimistic during these times: 1.looking for those in-the-moment reasons to be grateful. Right now, an incredibly friendly neighbourhood cat is one of those simple reasons;  (Editor’s Note: I’ve met that cat. She is REALLY adorable and off-the-charts friendly.) 2. meeting with our (even virtually!) mission partners to be reminded of what we as fundraisers are part of making possible; 3. talking to donors who see our work as one of the ways they stay optimistic through their philanthropy.

Cindy Han

Two things - amazing donors, amazing staff. Donors have stepped up, asked how can we help, made stretch gifts from hundreds to tens of thousands. Not a single one has said stop asking or tell me less. And staff that have never given up, creating solutions to provide services, finding ways to provide human connection and essential community services in a time of prolonged anxiety and isolation. No one has all the answers but there's an awful lot of folks committed to doing something to help and work toward solutions!

Kristin Morrison, CFRE

I do thank you calls on Mondays! A great way to start the week.

Cheryl Hanson

I am drawing optimism from focusing on stewardship and preparing for a long re-build. It's easy to get overwhelmed by the short-term struggles and daily roller-coaster rides (our emotions and our fundraising!). When I think about our sector and how many charities are struggling, I see a long road to recovery, but a recovery nonetheless and that gives me hope. The impacts of 2020 will be with us for a while but with a focus on stewardship and long-term planning we can build more resilient and reliable funds. Now more than ever relatability is a great unifying tool - one that we can use with donors, volunteers and colleagues.

Connecting with / helping people

Not surprisingly, there were folks who mentioned the power of reaching out to people – either to support them or to be supported.

Rickesh Lakhani

Speak regularly to people who give me hope - Watch/read/listen to the news in dosed, controlled sessions - Ditto social media (been bad at this one lately though) - Express gratitude through whatever channel I can. At the dinner table. In a journal. In an email to yourself. In the car. - Hug someone. I know it's limited with who you can hug. But I forget everything else. We need that.

 Paul Nazareth

What has inspired me is helping job seekers and young professionals - the energy created in their joy is explosive to lift me out of the darkness. An "I got the job!" email can cure all ills for me.

Janine Turner

I enjoy helping people when they are down, as looking for a new opportunity in a trying economy is one thing, but with COVID19 it is adding so many more challenges and added stress to the job seeker. I too love getting the email that share details of the new roles they have landed...

Kimberley Blease

 Working, talking and engaging with young professionals and mentees helps me.

Jackie Black

Carving out at least 2min of every Zoom call to catch up with colleagues personally! Or suggesting a call to mitigate a slew of back-and-forth emails. Trying to make up for that lost office chatter!


Not surprisingly, a few folks mentioned pets as a way to refuel their Optimism Quotient. I am a big supporter of this, too!

Isabel Botha

This year has presented me with a once in a lifetime learning and growth opportunity and I'm embracing every second of it! Also, cuddling a pet (or foster kitten!) Is an instant pessimism beater :)

Laurie Pringle

I highly recommend adopting a pet. Nothing relieves stress like a warm, furry ball of love! 


A lot of folks mentioned reading and how it can transport you to other worlds and give you insights into things you may never experience otherwise.

Maryann Kerr

As an introvert, I’ve been finding comfort in books. Old friends and new fiction suggestions. I’m transported by a good story and find myself energized and looking forward. 

Find optimism in small things / Recognizing the importance of our work

Gillian Doucet Campbell

These days, to stay optimistic, I'm all about celebrating the little things with positive self-talk. These celebrations range from, "You put on lip gloss for that Zoom meeting - way to go Gillian," to "You answered all your emails today, you're amazing!" There's always something to celebrate, I only need to be open to seeing it. But, what really keeps me optimistic is the joy of doing this good work with and for good people and the belief that this is more than a job. It's my vocation.

John Wong, CFRE

 I try to stay in the present and focus on successes, no matter how small. While these are difficult times, I remain optimistic by looking for, and working towards opportunities. Recently came across this from "The Big Rethink, Fundraising in an Era of COVID-19" by KCI. "But as is the case in any challenging time, there is also opportunity. Probably one of the most significant is that the pandemic has given our sector a ‘demonstration of relevance’ opportunity that is second to none. This situation illustrated how critical charities are to Canadians’ health and well-being. It has demonstrated the importance of having a strong social safety net, whether in healthcare, education, or social services..."

Stop working at 5pm!

What a great piece of advice. And difficult to do when work from home makes it easy to just keep on going.

Christina Selvaggio

I've made a personal commitment to shut down (and completely shut down) at 5pm. Filling time with walks and exploring new hobbies, reading blogs (yours of course). I often find myself saying "okay day done -one step closer to the end of this whole thing" despite reality. LOL it gives me a little sliver of hope and optimism.

 Dance / exercise / yoga / nature / family

As I would have expected, lots of folks talked about movement, nature and family (and a bit of wine!)

Keith Publicover

Morning mediation and yoga. Daily ritual

Bianca Crocker

I like to get out for walks or a run, and even during our 5km restrictions (in Melbourne, Australia) I found some lovely new paths and parks to wander in my neighbourhood. And I have been making a more conscious effort to get on my yoga mat regularly - even if just for 20 minutes in śavāsana. 🤣

Kelly Morris

I'll look forward to some ski days and being outside through the winter as much as possible. Keeping busy helping others progress and learn skills will help me pass the time. 🙃 

Eli Clarke

Avoiding news/social media. Lots of exercise. Reading. Using found time (commute, lunch break, etc...) and the current circumstances as an opportunity for personal development.

Ana Maria F.

I find taking an hour a day ( away from computers,telephone, and social media) for myself to pray, walk in the neighborhood, play my ukulele and read a book helps me appreciate the important things in life and remain positive and upbeat. Also time spent with my boys always makes me happy.

Renée Gallant

Have introduced meditation (finally!) into my routine; and a regular Wine Night with friends 😉. Balance is good, right?! But on a more professional note I’m ensuring that I have as many calls with alumni as possible. They never fail to recharge me. Serve to inspire me in these times when I need to dig deep for creative and innovative ways to bolster engagement.

Sybil Choles

Going for a walk and looking for the beauty in nature.


Gratitude was also mentioned by a few folks as a way to stoke the fires of optimism.

Leona Yez

From “Thanks a Thousand” by A.J. Jacobs. When I can’t sleep at night, which is quite frequently, I start giving thanks for all the great things I have in my life. Funny enough, when I first started doing this I found myself qualifying my thanks. “It was a beautiful day, if only it wasn’t so windy.” It took a bit of training to talk myself into just giving thanks, period. And I always considered myself a positive person! This nightly ritual has changed my life.

 The last word

I wanted to end with words by Ken Mayhew, who is always eloquent. I really like what he said, so I’m sharing it without editing.

Thanks to everyone who shared your thoughts.

Ken Mayhew

I have good days and bad days as do so many friends in and outside of our sector. Dark thoughts are in ample supply and platitudes feel thin. Great advice I received early on from a mentor was: speak to someone - yes speak don’t text - who at the end of the 5 minute or hour long conversation leaves you feeling somehow better. Not “solved”, not “right” just better. To me humour also helps greatly in these wtf times. Building on that, almost everyday, I try to be that person for someone else. More often there is little practical problem solving. I can assure you the benefit is mutual. 


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